Valentine’s Day is not the only celebration during the month of February. It is also American Heart Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness on properly caring for our heart. And that care is important: 1 and 4 deaths in the United States are due to heart disease. And sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of men and women alike.
These numbers are particularly tragic because many heart problems can be avoided with small changes to your lifestyle. Simply adding more exercise and eating healthier foods can make a big difference in your overall health and quality of life for years to come! With that in mind, let’s look a little closer at what you can do to live your best and fullest heart healthy life.
- Get Active: Simply put, any amount of physical activity is better than none! Exercise is the foundation for all aspects of a healthy life. Staying active can not only lower your risk of heart disease, but it can allow for a longer life, energize you build stronger bones and muscles, and contribute to an overall sense of happiness and relaxation. At a minimum, we should strive for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity; or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. That may sound like a lot, but remember: even 10 minute exercise bursts have their benefits, and that exercise can be spread out throughout the day and the week!
- Develop Healthy Eating Habits: It’s not a secret that eating right is a key part of the healthy living code. A balanced diet should include a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats, low-fat dairy, and lots and lots of water. Healthy proteins include skinless fish and meats, but would exclude red meat, because it’s very high in saturated fats. Nutritionists recommend no more than 10 percent of your diet should come from animals or animal products. Avoiding empty calories like certain sugars, fats, and oils is also a healthy practice. Ultimately, portion control and enjoying treats and alcohol in moderation will help you eat right without depriving yourself.
- Manage Your Cholesterol: Elevated cholesterol levels often come with artery-clogging plaque, which can make your heart work harder and increase your risk of heart problems. Managing your blood cholesterol, however, will help your heart continue to function properly. But remember: there is such a thing as “good cholesterol”! In fact, our bodies produce a certain amount of cholesterol and need it to function. But too much “bad cholesterol” could lead to a heart attack or stroke - so maintaining a healthy diet and eating foods high cholesterol in moderation is key. And if you’re worried or confused, just talk to your doctor with your questions and concerns!
- Manage Your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure - sometimes referred to as hypertension - is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke, or even kidney failure. It’s defined as the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels consistently being too high. As with high cholesterol, high blood pressure forces your heart to work harder, damages your blood vessels, and raises your risk of heart problems. High blood pressure is especially dangerous since it can develop without any outward symptoms, meaning there can be no warning signs. Having your blood pressure regularly checked by a doctor, and following their care advice, is critical to managing it.
American Heart Month may be ending, but awareness of heart health should go beyond the month of February - especially because there are certain risk factors you have no control over. For example:
- Your risk of heart problems will increase as you get older.
- Gender affects your likelihood of experiencing a heart attack, and how severe the attack will be.
- Certain ethnicities have a higher risk of heart disease.
- A history of heart disease in your family lineage can also be a significant factor.
Because of these factors, managing your risk factors and leading a healthy and happy lifestyle will all allow you to live your best life!
For more information on combating heart disease and improving your health, contact us at any of our offices throughout the Pittsburgh region. We’re here to answer your specific questions about your risk, your lifestyle, and what you can do to best manage your health!