February is American Heart Month, and Penobscot Bay YMCA urges everyone in Knox County to avoid heart disease by lowering their blood pressure and reducing their intake of sodium. 

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the United States’ number-one killer, responsible for one in three deaths each year. Additionally, about one-third of adults — about 80 million — have high blood pressure, with less than half of them having it under control. High blood pressure is often referred to as “The Silent Killer” because there are typically no warning signs or symptoms. 

Penobscot Bay YMCA encourages heart health through its Heartwatch Program, specifically for post–cardiac event patients, a Phase III and IV cardiac rehab program designed to lead participants through a basic fitness routine; blood pressure and heart rates are monitored constantly during all workouts. Heartwatch is supervised by nurses and always has a fitness specialist on staff during the class to help with each participant.

Everyone, even children, can benefit from reducing their intake of sodium, too much of which puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels, potentially triggering or increasing high blood pressure. Everyone should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, about 1 teaspoon of salt. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has tips to help reduce sodium in your diet: 

• Think fresh — Most of the sodium Americans eat is found in processed foods, especially cheesy foods, such as pizza; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli/luncheon meats; and ready-to-eat foods like canned chili, ravioli and soups. Fresh foods are generally lower in sodium.

• Enjoy home-prepared foods — Cook more often at home, where you are in control of what’s in your food. 

• Fill up on veggies and fruits — They are naturally low in sodium; eat a vegetable or fruit at every meal.

• Adjust your taste buds —  Cut back on salt little by little, and pay attention to the natural tastes of foods. Your taste for salt will lessen over time. Also, keep salt off the kitchen counter and the dinner table, and instead to season foods use spices, herbs, garlic, vinegar or lemon juice.

• Boost your potassium intake — Choose foods with potassium, which may help to lower your blood pressure. Potassium is found in vegetables and fruits, such as potatoes, beet greens, tomato juice and sauce, sweet potatoes and beans (white, lima, kidney), and also in bananas, yogurt, clams, halibut, orange juice and milk.

For more information, visit www.penbayymca.org, or stop into Pen Bay YMCA, at 116 Union Street in Rockport.