American Heart Month: Tips for maintaining a healthy heart from Russell Davis, FNP at Stansbury Springs Health Center
Americans are more informed than ever about the prevalence of heart disease in the United States. Claiming more than one million lives annually, heart disease, including stroke, heart attack and other types of cardiovascular disease, is the leading killer of women and men in the country, according to the Heart Foundation. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are two indicators of heart disease that are often detected in people before a major cardiovascular event such as stroke occurs.
While heart disease is a serious health concern for both men and women, rates of heart disease deaths among men have steadily declined; however, rates among women have remained relatively the same, according to the American Heart Association. Women, unlike men, can exhibit less obvious symptoms of heart disease, so often symptoms in women go unnoticed. Symptoms of heart disease can include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, cold sweats, nausea, dizziness and an increased heart rate. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, make sure to talk to your doctor.
Fortunately, people who are at high risk of heart disease or who have already exhibited symptoms can make some easy lifestyle changes to help improve their heart health.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is more to eating healthy than counting calories or trying to lose weight. A balanced diet can also impact the performance of your heart. Limit your intake of foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, cholesterol, trans fat and added sugars, as they do not contain much nutritional value. Eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish can help keep your heart healthy. Remember to exercise portion control and eat several meals throughout the day, including starting your day off with a balanced breakfast.
Exercise regularly and lead a more active lifestyle. This may seem like a no-brainer, but even altering your lifestyle just slightly to include more physical activity can reap great benefits for your heart. If you don’t currently exercise regularly, start by taking a short 15-minute walk each day to get yourself used to moving regularly. If you’re already somewhat active, try to set a regular workout schedule to ensure you get the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise.
Get enough rest. Just as exercise is important to your heart, so is sleep. Stress can damage your heart by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Getting a good night of rest can be critical to maintaining a healthy heart, especially if you have hypertension or high stress.
- Take precaution during flu and cold season. The flu and other infections can be hard on your heart. Make sure to wash your hands often, especially during cold and flu season. Getting a flu vaccine is also a great way to take preventive measures against disease.
- Don’t smoke. You’re probably already aware of the many detrimental effects tobacco has on your body. Smoking increases your risk of lung and throat cancers, but it also increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and that of those around you.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking a small amount of alcohol regularly can actually provide heart health benefits, however binge drinking and drinking more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men can increase heart disease risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight have a higher risk of developing heart disease because excessive weight often results in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an increased level of blood fats. By changing eating habits to incorporate a more balanced diet and adopting regular exercise habits, it can be easier to maintain a healthy weight.
There are plenty of heart health resources that are available at your primary care provider’s office. You can also talk to your doctor about your risk factors and establish a plan to adopt healthy behaviors to limit and reduce your risk of developing heart disease in the future.