During the month of February, Americans see the human heart as the symbol of love. February is American Heart Month, a time to show yourself the love. Here at Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine we want to help you learn about your risks for heart disease and stroke and how to have a healthy heart. Heart disease may be a leading cause of death, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your fate. Although you lack the power to change some risk factors — such as family history, sex or age — there are some key heart disease prevention steps you can take.
As you begin your journey to better heart health that can last a lifetime, keep these things in mind:
- Try not to become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a healthier heart, and every healthy choice makes a difference!
- Partner up. The journey is more fun—and often more successful—when you have company. Ask friends and family to join you.
- Don’t get discouraged. You may not be able to take all of the steps at one time. Get a good night’s sleep—also important for a healthy heart—and do what you can tomorrow.
- Reward yourself. Find fun things to do to decrease your stress. Round up some colleagues for a lunchtime walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with your family or friends.
Plan for Prevention
Try out these strategies for better heart health. You’ll be surprised how many of them can become lifelong habits!
Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer and improve diabetes. Eating several servings a week of certain fish, such as salmon and mackerel, may decrease your risk of heart attack.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight, especially if you carry excess weight around your middle, ups your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 5 to 10 percent can help decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Exercise regularly. Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater. Try getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits, so if you can’t meet those guidelines, don’t give up. You can even get the same health benefits if you break up your workout time into three 10-minute sessions most days of the week. And remember that activities, such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total. You don’t have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.
Don’t smoke. Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack. The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about five years. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day, and women to no more than one.
Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your health care team about treatment options.
Take your medicine. If you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or another condition, follow the instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something.
Get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can do more than leave you yawning throughout the day; it can harm your health. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep. But, if you’re constantly reaching for the snooze button and it’s a struggle to get out of bed, you need more sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it’s easier to sleep.
Get regular health screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
- Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings usually start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren’t ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
- Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20 if they have risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure. If you’re healthy, you can start having your cholesterol screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of heart disease.
- Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you don’t have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.
For more information, contact Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine at 303-659-9700.