Focus on heart health this Valentine's Day

SYCAMORE – University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County will offer “Meals for a Healthy Heart,” a two-session class for anyone interested in preventing or managing heart disease.

The classes will meet from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Feb. 12 and 19, at the University of Illinois Extension office, 1350 W. Prairie Drive in Sycamore. Marilyn Csernus, nutrition and wellness extension educator, will be the instructor.

Participants will learn how to shop for heart-healthy foods and stock a healthy pantry; strategies to include more fruits and vegetables in daily meals; how to select and use healthy oils and fats; ways to include fish, soy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds in meals and more.

At each session, participants will receive recipes, watch cooking demonstrations, taste foods to meet their dietary needs, and learn about proper diet and exercise to better care for their health. The fee for the program is $15 per person. Preregistration is preferred.

For more information or to register, visit or call 815-758-8194.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, thoughts center on affairs of the heart. But care of our physical hearts is every bit as important, University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator Laura Barr said.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death in the United States, with one in every three deaths resulting from heart disease and stroke. That translates into 2,200 deaths per day,” Barr said.

These illnesses are leading causes of disability, decreasing work productivity and stifling recreational activities. In addition, hospitalizations for heart disease and stroke cost more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity in 2010.

The top lifestyle risk factors for cardiovascular disease are smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and a high dietary intake of saturated fats and sodium, she said.

The expert said it’s best to work on one or two habits at a time. Too many changes at one time may lead to frustration and the possibility of giving up altogether. Giving up smoking is the top priority; that habit alone can make or break your present and future quality of life.

Barr urged people to learn about healthy eating through credible sources such as universities, professional networks or government agencies. Internet resources or advertisements may have messages that have not been proven scientifically and are biased in their claims.

Find a medical group you trust and where you feel comfortable to establish a wellness file. An annual exam is a great way to prevent disease and illness. Have your physician review your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting glucose to see if you fall in a healthy range. If you don’t, talk to your doctor about changes you can make to your lifestyle.

The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to be more physically active, which also results in improved fitness and strength and better concentration and mood. Your health will also improve as you move toward a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sodium, sugar and animal fats.

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