Healthy Heart, Healthy You

Did you know that your heart beats over 100,000 times in a day and as much as 35 billion times in a year?

The heart is hard-working and resilient. With every heartbeat, oxygen and nutrients are delivered through the bloodstream to your muscles, brain, and other vital organs to keep them functioning well. Simultaneously, wastes and toxins get taken to your kidneys to be removed so they don’t cause harm. When more oxygen and nutrients are needed, like during exercise, the heart responds by beating faster to supply the needed nutrients, and during times of rest, it slows down. When was the last time you stopped and thought about what your heart does for you? Or, perhaps the more important question is, what are you doing for your heart?

Health and wellness information is abundant, yet the cardiovascular disease remains one of the leading causes of death for men and women in the United States. It is estimated that as many as 18.2 million adults age 20 and older have some form of it. Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked vessels that can lead to a heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure. Heart disease is not something that only happens when we are older. Current research supports that heart disease can begin during childhood and teenage years due to different diseases and risk factors.

Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Other behaviors and conditions that increase risk include inactivity, unhealthy food choices, diabetes and obesity.

February is Heart Month, so it’s a great month to become more intentional about loving your heart better. Here are six ways to get started.

  1. Know your numbers! Make getting an annual physical a priority and get your numbers checked. Knowing where you are is the first step in keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t have time to make an appointment with your doctor, check to see if your pharmacist measures blood pressure, blood glucose and blood lipids. A full lipid panel includes triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL and LDL. Should any of your numbers come back indicating risk, follow up with your doctor right away to develop a healthy plan.

  1. Eat more fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy products, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition plays a vital role in heart health. To keep blood pressure in check, load up on fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy products. These foods contain three key nutrients, specifically potassium, magnesium and calcium, which help balance sodium, a mineral known to increase blood pressure when consumed in excess. All kids and adults should aim for at least five servings of fruits and veggies and 2-3 calcium-rich foods daily. However, if you are one of 103 million Americans who have high blood pressure, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to 8-10 servings for maximum benefits. Another added benefit of eating more fruits and vegetables is that they are naturally low in calories to support a healthy weight, and they contain fiber, which helps promote healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. To learn more about how fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, check out this month’s Dietitians Discussion. Plan to include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, walnuts, and flaxseeds in your meals and snacks. Omega-3 fatty acids protect the heart by lowering the risk of blood clots, reducing the risk of irregular heartbeats, lowering blood pressure and improving blood lipids, specifically good cholesterol and triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish per week or about 7 ounces.
  1. Eat less added sugars, solid fats, and sodium. Surveys show that most Americans continue to eat too much-added sugars, solid fats, and sodium. Eating too much sugar and refined white flour contributes to high triglycerides and insulin resistance. Having too much solid fat can raise cholesterol levels. And getting too much sodium can cause high blood pressure. Having fewer sweets and processed foods; eating more home-made meals made with lean meats and beans, plain fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products; and putting away the salt shaker are a few ways to improve your nutrient intake and promote a healthy heart.

  1. Stop Smoking. Smoking hardens the vessels that supply blood to the heart making high blood pressure more likely. However, giving up nicotine is easier said than done. Consider participating in a smoking cessation program, using nicotine patches, and finding new ways to relax to help you quit. Consult your doctor to learn more ways to quit smoking and get support from your family and friends.


  1. Move more. Inactivity is a significant risk factor for heart disease. It is estimated that less than 25 percent of adults met physical activity guidelines in 2018. That’s less than 1 in 4 people! For health benefits, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity weekly. Studies show that getting the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous activity can reduce cardiovascular disease by 30-40 percent and can reduce stroke by 25 percent. If exercise is new to you, start with 20 minutes of fast-paced walking or another activity that you enjoy, or if you are an AFF member, schedule a complimentary program design session with one of our certified personal trainers.
  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke. If you need to lose weight, making small goals to help change behaviors that contribute to weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight is a huge step. Eating fewer empty calories, getting more exercise and developing healthy sleep habits plays an important role. Learn more about how small changes can have a big impact in our upcoming No Stress Nutrition Class ( , or join A Healthy Approach, a ten-week small group comprehensive nutrition program (

Knowing about better heart health is a great starting point, but loving your heart requires taking action. What will you do, starting now, to take care of your heart?

We have a team of registered dietitians who can help you with your goals. Whether your goal is to lose weight or simply to make better choices, our dietitians work with you to create a personalized plan that’s right for you. To learn more about confidential nutrition counseling options and packages, email

Kiya Rivera

Registered Dietitian

American Family Fitness Virginia Center Commons

Kiya Rivera is the Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at the Virginia Center Commons (VCC) American Family Fitness location. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Food Science and Nutrition with a Specialization in Dietetics. Kiya completed her Dietetic Internship at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System.

Professionally, Kiya enjoys the relationships she develops with her clients through nutrition counseling. She strives to help people reach their personal health and wellness goals through education, customized nutrition, support, and encouragement. Her areas of specialty include diabetes management, weight loss, heart-healthy diets and motivational interviewing.

When Kiya is not working, you are likely to find her working on her own personal wellness and fitness goals. Kiya enjoys trying new things and loves new experiences.

Nutrition appointments with Kiya are available at American Family Fitness Virginia Center Commons.

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