Two Dean College students selecting healthy food from the salad bar inside the Smith Dining Center on campus.

February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors, which impact approximately half of all Americans.

What can you do to help lower your risk? Below are lifestyle and dietary changes from the American Heart Association that you can put in place right here on campus!

Use up at least as many calories as you take in. To estimate how much you are eating versus burning, you can use a fitness tracking app, like MyFitnessPal, to compare workout calorie totals to meal totals. Are you coming up with an imbalance? Schedule time at the Kokes Fitness Center into your weekly plans. The AHA recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or a combo) each week.

Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. The Smith Dining Center gives students a wide variety of meal options, but it’s up to you to create a well-balanced meal. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy. A healthy diet would also include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, and limit saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. The NIH website features helpful tipsheets and menu plans that can help you make informed decisions when choosing your meals in the dining center.

Eat less nutrient-poor foods. Don’t use up all your calories on a few high-calorie items! When planning out your meals don’t sub out a healthy sandwich for something like a slice of cake, just because they may have the same number of calories – you ‘ll be depriving your body of nutrients that it needs to stay healthy. Become familiar with the nutrition labels on foods. They can be a bit overwhelming, but the AHA has a useful guide to help you better understand what that long list means. Smart choices are key when monitoring calorie counts.

Making smart decisions when it comes to physical activity and food can have a huge impact on your heart and overall body health. Dean’s campus has all the resources you need to incorporate heart-healthy choices into your day. Learn more about student life at Dean.