Summer the perfect time to get healthy

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Summer, the season of warm weather and long days, is the best time of year to establish a healthy lifestyle.

With the abundance of in-season, local produce and outdoor activities, proper eating habits and staying physically active can build a strong heart as well as reduce the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is America's No. 1 killer, but with simple changes of diet and exercise the risk can be reduced.

Like skeletal muscles, the heart requires exercise to function properly and remain strong. The heart is a muscular organ of the circulatory system that constantly pumps blood throughout the body, so exercise is beneficial to enlarge the muscle and transport more oxygen to the blood and heart.

According to the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine exercise guidelines, at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise should be completed five days a week to maintain health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Sixty to 90 minutes of exercise is required for the prevention of weight gain. Walking is a safe, effective way to stay physically active.

Simple ways to incorporate exercise include walking or biking to work, hiking Bennington Lake, walking a friend's dog or taking the whole family to walk Pioneer Park.

For the time-crunched individual, short bouts of exercise are better than no exercise. Therefore, a 15-minute walk to and from work incorporates the whole 30 minutes of physical activity. Walla Walla is home to many heart-healthy resources to jump start physical activity -- fitness centers, parks, bike routes, hiking trails or tennis courts.

Physical fitness and nutrition correlate to achieve an overall sense of wellbeing. Six essential nutrients are required for a body to function and to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle. The six major nutrients consist of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and water.

A simple way of reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease is by eating colorful fruits and vegetables.

Heart-healthy foods deliver phytochemicals, which appear to prevent and repair damage to cells, essential for preventing heart disease.

To receive more nutrients, eating whole foods is suggested in place of processed foods. In essence, eating an apple is better than applesauce, but applesauce is better than apple pie.

The Cleveland Clinic and the American Dietetic Association have recognized the top 25 heart-healthy foods, including sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, oranges, cantaloupe and papaya. Other recommended foods include sun tea, brown rice, oatmeal, kidney beans, salmon and flaxseed. There is no one "power" food that will create a healthy heart, but rather nutritious selections and appropriate portions will sustain the organ. Eating a variety of foods helps people stick with a healthier diet, and one place to find fresh, organic produce, meat and non-preservative bread is the Walla Walla Weekend Farmer's Market.

Poor habits of a sedentary lifestyle, smoking or eating trans-fats can be broken in the summer by surrounding yourself with healthy choices.

Initial lifestyle changes can be tough, but gradual fitness and nutrition adjustments will be recognized throughout the summer. Enjoying the sun, fresh air and a glass of homemade sun tea are the first steps to a stronger, healthier heart.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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