Just in time for Valentine’s Day: 7 heart-healthy tips

The month of February is not just about flowers and chocolate (preferably a chocolate Atkins bar or shake). February is also American Heart Month. Take some time to be good to your heart, and share these heart-healthy tips with your friends and family.

1. Measure your middle:
Waist size forecasts heart health better than weight or BMI. A large waist (over 35 inches or more) may lead to heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Fortunately, studies show that a low-carb diet like Atkins can help decrease your waist circumference.

2. Watch your carbs: Processed or rapidly digested carbs (like white flour, white rice, sugar and packaged foods like crackers, cookies and chips) increase the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the Harvard Nurses Study, which followed almost 120,000 female nurses for eight years. When you follow Atkins, you control carb intake. By eliminating added sugar and focusing on whole foods, including foundation vegetables, as your core carbohydrates, you are eliminating those processed carbs that put you at risk for heart disease. As you transition to Ongoing Weight Loss, and later Pre-Maintenance and Lifetime Maintenance, you gradually reintroduce more carbohydrates. This process allows you to customize the program to your own personal tolerance for carbs.

3. Eat breakfast: Studies also show that people who eat breakfast are more successful at losing weight (and keeping it off) than those who don’t eat breakfast. Start off the day with a couple eggs scrambled with diced tomatoes, sliced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese and a little salsa. Check out our Recipes section for even more delicious low-carb breakfast ideas. In a rush? Try an Atkins Day Break bar or shake.

4. Shoot for 30: 30 minutes of exercise, that is. Consistent exercise helps strengthen your heart and burn the fat. If you can’t fit in 30 continuous minutes of exercise, you can split it up into three 10-minute walks throughout the day.

5. Snack away: Keep your hunger and cravings at bay by having a few healthy, low-carb snacks on hand throughout the day. Stash a bag of almonds or a couple of Atkins bars in your purse or briefcase and keep cut-up fresh veggies, string cheese and olives ready to go in your fridge.

6. Eat your fats: Certain fats are good for your heart, and they are also an important part of Atkins. These fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and nut butter. In addition, try having at least two servings a week (3.5 ounces) of fatty coldwater fish like salmon, halibut and tuna, which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s may decrease triglyceride levels, slow the rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure.

7. Take charge of stress: Stress may affect your heart health. Taking a little time out for yourself will do wonders for your heart (and your well-being). Schedule some social time with a friend (make it a heart-pumping walk, and you’ve squeezed in some exercise as well). Carve out 30 minutes to sit down with a good book or just take a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee and relax and recharge.

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