Living Columns & Blogs

Heart to heart

Later this week we will enter the month of February, cue the hearts, flowers and Valentine’s Day. While we have love on the brain, I would like to challenge us to change our perceptions of love. By dealing with the heart in a slightly different way. Our hearts are one of the most important organs in our bodies and February is American Heart Month.

There are non-controllable factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease including; family history of heart disease, being of African American descent, being a woman after menopause and getting older. The good news is most chronic diseases including CVD are caused by modifiable behaviors. The three most common risk behaviors are lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and lack of weight management. The Macon-Bibb County Cooperative Extension Office encourages you to love yourself and make small changes that can decrease your risk for heart disease.

Changing your diet: Most of us do not get the appropriate servings of fruit and vegetables per day. A small change like ensuring that you have a serving of fruit or vegetables at every meal can do wonders for your heart. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories, which aids in weight management. Try incorporating a variety of vegetables into your diet. Try adding kale, asparagus and seasonal fruits such as blueberries and cherries. I also have found that drinking fruit and vegetable smoothies can also increase fruit and vegetable intake.

Spice it up: How you prepare your foods is just as important as what you eat. Reducing the amount of sodium in our foods is essential to good heart health. I understand we are a foodie-based society and no one likes bland food, but there are other ways to have foods taste great without adding sodium. Using spices and herbs adds flavor without adding the extra fat and calories to our foods. If you’re going for an Italian inspired meal for instance, try using garlic powder, thyme, oregano and basil. Switching from garlic and onion salt to garlic and onion powder is also a small step that could bring big returns.

Make the Effort: In a society where binge-watching several seasons of our favorite shows is the norm, physical activity is going to take effort on our part. Again, small changes can make huge differences. Walking is a cost-effective and easy way to get moving. Walk the entire grocery store, to the mailbox or to the corner. I took my own advice and began walking. I am ashamed to say at first it was rather difficult. I could not walk around the block. Yikes! I kept at it and now I can walk around the block twice. Whoohoo! I had to build up to it though. I started with a small goal of walking to the end of my block. Somewhere along the way I added a pedometer app to my phone. The app let me know how many steps I took daily and it served as a reminder to get up and get moving. My family also joined in. The children and my husband began to join me on my evening walks. Winning! Love yourself Middle Georgia.

Keishon J. Thomas is a Family Consumer Sciences county agent for UGA Extension-NW District. She can be reached at