February 13, 2018
Over the average lifetime, the heart beats about 2.5 billion times, playing a vital role in pumping blood to every part of the body, carrying oxygen, hormones, and a host of essential cells, while helping to remove waste products. Given the heart's constant workload, it's amazing it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. It may not be at the top of everyone’s to-do lists, but caring for your heart through a healthy diet and regular physical activity is the secret weapon to preventing heart disease.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women, but the good news is that it’s preventable and controllable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. Additionally, one out of every four deaths in the United States each year is due to heart disease. The term “heart disease” refers to several different heart conditions that can lead to heart attack, heart failure, chest pain, and an irregular heart rate.
Knowing that heart disease is preventable and controllable can be a big relief. Little changes made day-to-day can lead to life-long changes that can improve your heart health. The American Heart Association has created “Life’s Simple 7” to help you learn seven ways to reduce your risk for heart disease. As you work towards a healthier you, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you are making changes in a way that is safe for you.
What can you do? Exercise regularly. It is recommended that adults should engage in exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Aim for moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.
What can you do? Have your cholesterol checked at least once every five years. A total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL, a good cholesterol (HDL) 40-60 mg/dL or higher, and a bad cholesterol (LDL) less than 130 mg/dL are good numbers to aim for.
What can you do? Eat a heart-healthy diet consisting of vegetables and fruits, fiber-rich whole-grain foods, fish and other lean meats, and limit salt or sodium.
What can you do? Manage your stress to help keep your blood pressure down. You should also have you blood pressure checked on a regular basis. You can check your blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy, or at a doctor's office. A blood pressure of 120/80 is typically considered the high end of healthy.
What can you do? If you are overweight, less calories in and more calories out can help you get it under control. In other words, eating healthy foods and exercising can help with weight management. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can be beneficial.
What can you do? Cut back on added sugars and saturated fats. These can increase your blood sugar levels and make you more as risk for diabetes.
What can you do? If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Visit https://smokefree.gov/ for tools and resources.
The thought of making all of these changes might seem a little overwhelming at first. However, here are a few tips to make the changes go smoothly. Just pick one or two things that you can do this week to begin the journey on improving your heart health.Remember: every little step you take brings you closer to a healthier heart. Find a buddy. Making changes with someone else is a lot easier and a lot more fun than by yourself. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. You may not be able to change everything at once, so just take a deep breath and do whatever you are able to do. Make sure to find time for fun. Reward yourself in little ways when you reach goals or start to make changes. Learn more about the American Heart Association and “Life’s Simple 7” by going to http://www.heart.org/.