American Heart Association

How the Heart-Check Food Certification Program Works

The Heart-Check mark makes it easy to spot heart-healthy foods in the grocery store or when dining out. Simply look for the name of the American Heart Association along with our familiar red heart with a white check mark on the package or menu. But not all red hearts you see are from the American Heart Association; look for the AHA name to be sure. 

When you spot the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark, you’ll instantly know the food has been certified to meet our nutrition requirements. It’s a good first step in creating an overall sensible eating plan.

A research study finds that choosing foods that meet Heart-Check certification requirements linked to better diet quality.

The American Heart Association Heart-Check Food Certification Program is designed to help consumers make informed choices about the foods they purchase. The nutrition requirements are food-based and intended for healthy people over age two. The Heart-Check program is not a dietary solution for any particular condition or disease. People with medical conditions or dietary restrictions should follow the advice of their healthcare professionals.

Food manufacturers participating in the program pay administrative fees to the American Heart Association to cover program operating expenses. No donations are used to support the program.


Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet

What are the benefits of heart-healthy eating?

Eating a heart-healthy diet is important for managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, stroke and other health threats.

Aim to eat a diet that’s rich in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils

Limit:

  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Sodium
  • Red meat (if you do eat red meat, compare labels and select the leanest cuts available)
  • Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages

Be sure to work with the “chefs” in your household and plan together for any dietary changes that are needed. When cooking at home, try heart-healthy recipes. When dining out, look for healthy options.


Read the labels
By adopting the habit of reading food labels, you can choose foods more wisely. Watch for foods that have saturated fat or trans fat — factors that can raise your cholesterol. Eating foods that are high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. Generally, the higher your salt intake, the higher your blood pressure.


Look for the Heart-Check mark
With so many marketing messages being thrown at you in the grocery store, it can be difficult to know what is truly healthy. To make it easier, the American Heart Association (AHA) developed the Heart-Check mark. When you see this symbol on food packaging, it means that the product meets AHA criteria for saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium for a single serving of the food product for healthy people over age 2.


The DASH eating plan
As its name implies, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is designed to help you manage blood pressure. Emphasizing healthy food sources, it also limits:

  • Red meat
  • Sodium (salt)
  • Sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages

In addition to being easy to follow, delicious and varied, the DASH eating plan is proven effective. Download a PDF of the complete DASH eating plan.


Craving a cup of joe? What does the research say about coffee and your health?

  Coffee. Cup of joe. Java. No matter what you call it, millions of people worldwide wake up and fuel their day with it. And though consumers might be jittery about the recent court battle in California over cancer warnings, experts say most of the science actually indicates coffee could have health benefits.

“The overall picture is quite clear,” said Dr. Frank Hu, chair of nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “There is no long-term increased risk of major chronic disease, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even cancer.”

The java confusion stems over an eight-year court case. A Los Angeles-based judge’s preliminary decision last month requires cancer warning labels because of concerns about acrylamide, a chemical produced during the roasting process. Acrylamide also is present in some fried or roasted starchy foods, including french fries, potato chips, breakfast cereals and toast. It’s also found in cigarette smoke. The judge gave the coffee industry a few weeks to file appeals and could issue a final ruling late this month.

But there’s little evidence acrylamide levels in food cause cancer in humans. Studies have found no consistent evidence acrylamide exposure in food is associated with cancer risk, according to the National Cancer Institute. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed more than 1,000 human and animal studies and issued a statement in 2016 that “found no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.”

“The California judge’s decision to label coffee as a cancer risk is really inconsistent with the scientific literature,” Hu said. “It’s very misleading and has already caused a huge amount of confusion in the general public. The health outcomes have been remarkably consistent.”

Hu was senior author of a 2015 study in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation that concluded people who regularly drink moderate amounts of coffee daily — fewer than five cups — experienced a lower risk of death from heart and neurological diseases.

About four years ago, the U.S. government gave coffee its OK, too. The Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines for all Americans, published every five years as a go-to source for nutrition advice, said three to five cups a day, which can be up to 400 milligrams a day of caffeine, can be part of a healthy diet. The AHA suggests that people who have an arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm, talk to their health care provider about caffeine intake.

“This guidance on coffee is informed by strong and consistent evidence showing that, in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease,” the federal guidelines say. “However, individuals who do not consume caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated beverages are not encouraged to incorporate them into their eating pattern.”

More recently, a review of more than 200 studies published last fall in the BMJ concluded three to four cups a day may be “more likely to benefit health than harm.” It found a lower risk of liver disease and some cancers in coffee drinkers, and a lower risk of dying from stroke.

All of that should be good news to the people around the world who drink more than 1.1 billion cups of coffee each day.

But it’s still easy to be confused. A quick search for coffee and health online yields hundreds, even thousands, of results.

Studies abound – some funded by the coffee industry. For example, a European Journal of Nutrition study investigated the effects of coffee and its antioxidant properties and found no effect. Researchers took blood samples of 160 volunteers who drank up to three to five cups of coffee or water each day for eight weeks.

“Up to five cups of coffee per day had no detectable effect, either beneficial or harmful, on human health,” that study concluded. It was funded by Kraft Foods, which makes Maxwell House coffees.

Of course, “no one is talking about coffee as a magic bullet,” Hu said. He and other experts say it’s important to keep track of the bigger picture, with the focus on moderation and dietary patterns.

“You can’t pin anything on any one specific lifestyle behavior, particularly with diet,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston and past chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee.

“When we talk about diet, it should really be about the whole package, not single items. Right now, the majority of the evidence suggests there may be a health benefit from drinking coffee and there doesn’t seem to be any disadvantage. Of course, with a caveat that you don’t want to add a lot of cream and sugar, or to use it as an excuse to have a few cookies or a pastry. Then, there is a downside,” said Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy who also was an advisor on the federal dietary guidelines.

“We have a tendency to focus on one or two specific foods or beverages, and that’s when the whole floor falls out from under us.”


Simple Steps for the Whole Family to be Heart Healthy

  

Making time for a heart-healthy lifestyle can seem overwhelming. But the good news is that making a few small simple lifestyle changes can lead to heart-healthy habits that require little thought or effort.


No Time for Exercise? Here Are 7 Easy Ways to Move More!

 

Too busy to add more exercise to your busy schedule? When you can’t seem to make time for a full workout, try these no-sweat ways to simply move more. 


Body Mass Index In Adults (BMI Calculator for Adults)

The benefits of maintaining a healthy weight go far beyond improved energy and smaller clothing sizes. By losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, you are also likely to enjoy these quality-of-life factors too.

  • Fewer joint and muscle pains
  • More energy and greater ability to join in desired activities
  • Better regulation of bodily fluids and blood pressure
  • Reduced burden on your heart and circulatory system
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Reductions in blood triglycerides, blood glucose, and risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk for heart disease and certain cancers

BMI is an indicator of the amount of body fat for most people. It is used as a screening tool to identify whether an adult is at a healthy weight. Find your BMI and what it means with our handy BMI Calculator. A separate BMI Percentile Calculator should be used for children and teens that takes a child’s age and gender into consideration.

  • BMI stands for Body Mass Index
    This is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 kg/m² indicates a normal weight. A BMI of less than 18.5 kg/m² is considered underweight. A BMI between 25 kg/m² and 29.9 kg/m² is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 kg/m² or higher is considered obese.
     
  • Excess weight increases the heart’s work.
    It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It can make diabetes more likely to develop, too. Lifestyle changes that help you maintain a 3-5% weight loss are likely to result in clinically meaningful improvements in blood glucose, triglycerides, and risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Greater weight loss can even help reduce BP and improve blood cholesterol.
     
  • To calculate your BMI – Click here!

Identifying Your Fitness Goals

 

You’ve made the decision to start a physical activity program — the first major step toward becoming more active. But what’s next?

Although physical activity is individualized and everyone’s goals are different, adults benefit most from at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. But everyone should answer the following questions before starting a routine.

1. How fit are you now?

Your physical activity regimen will vary widely based on your current fitness level. Determine your starting point by assessing and recording your first fitness scores when you begin your program. If you continue to do this periodically, you’ll be able to track your progress.

To assess your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition, you should record:

  • Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking one mile (1.6 kilometers);
  • How long it takes to walk one mile;
  • How many push-ups you can do in one set;
  • How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you; (are your legs straight here and are you reaching toward your feet?)
  • Your waist circumference (do you mean immediately above the hipbones?) at the level of your hipbones;
  • Your body mass index, which you can easily find by using our BMI calculator for adults. 

2. Do you have any health conditions?
If you have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, you should talk to your doctor before beginning a new activity program. In general, healthy men and women who plan prudent increases in their weekly physical activity do not need to consult a healthcare provider before becoming active.

3. What activities do you enjoy?
Research shows people are more likely to continue a fitness program they enjoy. If you have a blast on the dance floor, you might want to consider an aerobics class that includes dance moves. If you enjoy being around others, a gym membership or walking club might be a good bet. If you prefer to exercise alone, try workout DVDs and simple equipment you can use at home.

4. How much are you willing to pay for fitness?
When choosing your fitness options, make sure they also fit your budget. If gym memberships and home exercise equipment are too pricey, consider cheaper options for getting in shape. Your nearby YMCA or recreation department may offer discounted fitness classes to local residents.

Next Step: Goal setting
Using the answers to the above questions as a guide, you are now ready to set your goals.

  • General Goal – If you are just starting out, a simple, straightforward goal could be to work toward meeting AHA recommendations for physical activity. Current guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of the two, plus two days of strength training.
     
  • Specific Goal – If you have something more specific in mind, such as running a 5K race or completing a triathlon, create a plan on how you plan to reach that goal. Consider joining a local running club or triathlon group to get help with a training plan that will increase your stamina and strengthen your resolve.
     
  • Weight-Loss Goal – If the goal of your physical activity program is to lose weight, you may want to speak to your doctor to determine a healthy amount to lose each week. Along with appropriate calorie intake, physical activity is an important part of losing weight and keeping it off. The amount of physical activity needed achieve a healthy weight varies greatly from person to person. 

You may want to ask what types and amounts of physical activity are recommended to reach your goal. 

Clear goals can help motivate you when you’re not in the mood to get moving. Tracking your progress can also help you stick with the program. 


Breaking Down Barriers to Fitness

 

Most of us are familiar with the most common barrier to a regular physical activity routine — the lack of time. Work, family obligations and other realities of daily life often get in the way of our best intentions to be more active. There are many additional barriers that vary by the person and life circumstance.

If you’re committed to a physical activity program and setting goals for yourself, it’s helpful to first identify your personal barriers. By troubleshooting and developing tactics in advance, you’ll have better success overcoming them. 

 

Here are some of the more common barriers and solutions for overcoming them:

  • Barrier: Lack of time
    • Solutions: Monitor your activities for one week and identify at least three, 30-minute slots you could use for physical activity. Select activities that you can fit into your home or work routine so you’re not wasting time on transportation to another venue to accomplish them. Walking in your neighborhood, climbing stairs at your office or exercising while you watch TV are all good options.
  • Barrier: Friends and family don’t share your interest in physical activity
    • Solutions: Explain your fitness and/or health improvement goals to friends and family and ask for their support. Invite friends to participate in physical activity with you. Join a local YMCA or walking club to find people with similar goals to offer support.
  • Barrier: Lack of motivation and/or energy
    • Solutions: Plan ahead. Schedule physical activity for specific times/days and “check” it off your list or calendar each time you complete it. Determine what time of day you feel more energetic and try to fit activity into that time frame. Join an exercise group or class and seek others in the group to help motivate you and keep you accountable to attending.
  • Barrier: Lack of resources/equipment
    • Solutions: Select activities that require minimal facilities or equipment, such as walking, jogging, jumping rope or calisthenics. Identify inexpensive, convenient resources in your community, such as parks and recreation programs, worksite wellness groups, walking clubs, etc.
  • Barrier: Family caregiving obligations
    • Solutions: Exercise with your kids — go for a walk together, play tag or other running games, get an aerobic dance or exercise tape for kids. You can spend time together, occupy the kids and ensure they’re getting the daily physical activity they need to stay healthy. If you have a specific class you like to attend, try alternating babysitting time with a neighbor.
  • Barrier: Frequent work or leisure travel
    • Solutions: Join a YMCA or YWCA and ask about reciprocal memberships that allow access to facilities in other cities. Pack a jump rope and resistance bands in your luggage. Book hotels that have a pool and/or fitness rooms.

Daily Tips to Help Keep Your Family Active

How can you help your family be more physically active and get enough exercise to stay healthy? Get up and move more as part of your everyday routine with our easy tips and hacks. Every April, we celebrate Move More Month to encourage everyone to get active for better health.

The focus of the month is how simple daily efforts and habits can infuse more activity into your life without taking up a lot of time you don’t have!

Here are our top 30 tips to help you and your family be more active.

  1. Just move more! There are lots of fun and easy ways to build more activity into your everyday routine, even if you’re not a gym hero.
  2. Park and go. How many times have you circled the parking lot to find that “rock star” spot? Spare yourself the stress by parking farther away (or even in a remote lot) and walking the rest of the way to your destination.
  3. Wear what you’ve got. You don’t need special clothing to simply get out and walk. A comfortable, supportive pair of shoes and a few basics will keep you ready to go.
  4. Work out at work. Add some healthy activity to your work day. Take 10-minute walking breaks, schedule walking meetings when possible, do some yoga or stretching during downtime, or walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch instead of driving.
  5. Schedule it. Having trouble making time for physical activity? Set an alarm on your phone or schedule it on your calendar – and treat it like any other important appointment.
  6. Be sweet to your feet. Keep your feet happy (along with your knees and legs) so you can move more without discomfort.
  7. Take the stairs. but it doesn’t up your activity level. Take the stairs instead, even if only for a floor or two. You may huff and puff at first, but over time, your body will thank you.
  8. Set a goal. Having a commitment or goal, like being active for at least 150 minutes each week, will help you stay on track. Share it with others to keep yourself accountable. If you’re the competitive type, challenge friends, family or coworkers and see who can consistently meet their goals over time.
  9. Go mobile. Catching up on phone calls? Walk your talk – in your neighborhood, on a treadmill or around your workplace. If you use a headset or earbuds make sure you can still hear traffic.
  10. Pick up the pace. When walking, running or cycling, increase your speed from leisurely to brisk or choose a route with more hills or inclines. Or alternate moderate and vigorous intensity. You’ll get a more intense workout in the same amount of time.
  11. Be a sport. Team and individual sports can be a fun way to meet your activity goals. Join a recreation center or league in your community, or round up some friends or coworkers for an informal game.
  12. Buddy up. Find a physical activity accountability partner. Your spouse or a coworker who always holds you to your deadlines can also help you reach your fitness goals.
  13. Fitness first. Shake up your family’s after-school/after-work routine. Join your kids for a bike ride or shoot some hoops before starting on homework and chores. You’ll all feel better and think better!
  14. Timing is everything. If you find you’re better at sleeping in than making it to that morning workout, try getting active at a different time of day.
  15. Just dance. Clear some space, put on some music, and take a dance break! It can re-energize a work meeting, study session, lazy Sunday or game night. Let each person take a turn as DJ so everyone’s favorites get played.
  16. Get your garden on! Gardening, lawn mowing and yard work are a great way to get active outdoors. No yard? No problem. Try container gardening or a local community garden.
  17. Put the screens on hold. Instead of heading right for the TV or game console after dinner, make that family activity time. Take a walk, practice a sport, or play a game of tag or hide-and-seek.
  18. Be an active parent. Experts say that what kids want more than anything else is time with their parents. To give them that, don’t just send them out to play — go play with them!
  19. Get a kinder, gentler workout. Try mindful movement like yoga, tai chi or qi gong. These gentle mind-body practices may leave you less stressed and can be done just about anywhere.
  20. Stress is no excuse to skip your workout. Regular physical activity can help you manage stress, sleep better and have more energy.
  21. Tune into fitness during TV time. Walk or jog in place or on a treadmill, lift weights, or do yoga while you watch your favorite shows. Break up a TV binge with a 10-minute activity session between episodes. Or challenge the kids to see who can do the most burpees, pushups or jumping jacks during commercial breaks.
  22. Do what you love. Find activities that fit your personality and motivate you to stick with them. If you’re a social person, try a group dance class, a kickball team or walking with a group of friends. If you prefer time alone, yoga or running might be a better fit for you.
  23. Make active chore cards. Let each family member draw a card each day with a different active task that needs to be done. Cleaning up after dinner, walking the dog, taking the trash out, folding laundry and unloading the dishwasher are all good ways to get your family up off the couch – and get the chores done.
  24. Stay active when you travel. Don’t take a vacation from fitness. Instead of a bus tour, see the sights by walking or bicycling. If you’ll be spending a lot of time in an airport, walk while you wait! Throw a jump rope or resistance band in your suitcase. And take advantage of the hotel fitness center or swimming pool.
  25. Get active for a cause. If you live to help others, active community events like the Heart Walk are a great way to do something healthy while giving back. Some even offer fitness training, team opportunities and prizes!
  26. Change up date night. An evening out with your spouse or bestie doesn’t have to mean dinner and a movie. Keep a list of activities that would be fun to do together, like walking, bowling, miniature golf, dancing, indoor rock climbing, or hula hooping! Get creative – the possibilities are endless.
  27. Fit in walking. Being more active doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. You can walk just about anytime, anywhere, and every 10-minute session counts toward your goal of at least 150 minutes per week.
  28. Warm up to warming up. A proper warm-up (and cool-down) can help you improve flexibility and avoid injury. You’ll feel better after every workout and be more likely to stick with it.
  29. It’s a dog’s life. A dog can be a great walking or running companion. If you don’t have one of your own you could volunteer at a local shelter, help out a neighbor who is too busy to walk their dog, or start a dog-walking service!
  30. Do it anyway. Didn’t make it to the gym before it closed? Create your own circuit workout at home! No equipment needed, just a little willpower and creativity.

Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health

 

What should your heart rate be when working out, and how can you keep track of it? Our simple chart will help keep you in the target training zone, whether you want to lose weight or just maximize your workout. Find out what normal resting and maximum heart rates are for your age and how exercise intensity and other factors affect heart rate.

 

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