With Valentine's Day happening Thursday, there's no better time to celebrate National Heart Month. In spite of all the developments in modern medicine, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of adults across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more than 600,000 people die of heart disease in America every year — and that includes both men and women, though men are more at risk, the CDC says.

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Anne Braly

So what are the best ways to get our hearts back in shape?

Change our bad habits and get motivated, says Danielle Townsend, a registered dietitian with Primary Health Care Center.

"Habits are formed from doing something over and over again until we don't have to think about it as much," she says. "We learn habits from those around us; first, our parents, then our classmates, teachers and the media. Then we form habits on our own as we become adults."

Those are good habits as well as bad.

And motivation? The same thing. We learn from those around us. If parents don't exercise and become positive role models, it's likely their children will follow suit.

"Motivation comes to each of us for different reasons and at different times," Townsend notes. "I never pressure my patients into changing or make them feel bad for their current habits. It's my job to provide the education to and be supportive of my patients, if and when they are ready to change."

And it's never too late — even after 50. If you've had bad dietary habits and been inactive as an adult, it's still possible to improve your heart health.

"It may not be possible to get your heart 100 percent back to the way it was when you were young, but you can slow the progression or worsening of heart disease by having an effective treatment plan with your doctor and dietitian."

Townsend suggests creating an exercise plan that includes 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise every week — running, power walking, using the treadmill or participating in an aerobics class. That's just 20 minutes per day, and most of us can find the time to get up off the couch and get moving. Children should get 60 minutes of activity most days of the week.

It's not all about exercise, though. Our diets play a critical role in heart health, too.

"Understanding which foods can affect our cholesterol and weight is important," Townsend says. "From there, we can learn about moderation and know that it's not necessary to give up all things we love."

Love bacon? Don't deny yourself; just watch how much you eat. And share that box of chocolates you may get for Valentine's Day. Again, moderation is key.

"Saturated fat is what you don't want too much of in your diet," Townsend says, adding that we really should limit our intake of bacon, sausage and other processed meats including hot dogs and bologna. Also real butter, coconut oil, chocolate, whole milk, mayonnaise, red meat and fried foods need to be on your watch list.

And here are foods to add: avocados, fish, seafood, nuts and seeds, which contain those all-important Omega-3 healthy fats that are beneficial in protecting the heart.

You also want to try to include as many servings of vegetables and fruit you can squeeze into your diet each day. Four to five servings of vegetables and three to four servings of fruit are recommended.

"These high-fiber foods are something a lot of people don't get in their diet," Townsend says. "Fiber helps to remove cholesterol from the bloodstream. This is why we also want to be choosing more complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat breads and whole grains — brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta noodles and dried beans."

It may seem impossible to consume that many vegetables and fruit every day, so taking a good multivitamin makes for a good backup plan. Townsend takes one every day and stresses the importance of checking the ingredient list on your jar of vitamins to make sure it's not loaded with fillers, such as artificial dyes, hydrogenated oil and talc.

"With that said, supplements are not an acceptable substitution for actual food," she adds. "I also know that getting in all recommended servings from each food group every day is unlikely for most. That is exactly the reason I take a multivitamin.

Here are some suggestions for getting as many fresh veggies and fruit in your diet as possible.

* Keep fruit handy for snacks because they are quick to grab.

* Add veggies to soups, pasta and casserole dishes

* Try to keep cut veggies in the refrigerator. You're more likely to eat them at mealtimes or for snacks if they are ready to go.

* Keep the blender handy, and make smoothies for breakfast and snacktime.


WTCI Wine Dinner

Tickets are now on sale for the 2019 Masterpiece Experience Wine Dinner to benefit Chattanooga's PBS station WTCI. From the sound of things, it promises to be a fun, delicious evening of food from James Beard-nominated chef Erik Niel at his restaurant, Easy Bistro.

In addition to an elegant dinner with select wines served with each course, there will be a silent auction with items all about Chattanooga and PBS opportunities and experiences. The evening's proceeds will support WTCI's programming and outreach throughout the Tennessee Valley.

Tickets are $175 per person and may be purchased at Or call Phil Trammell at 423-702-7808.

Contact Anne Braly at