Steps to Improve Heart Health
Heart disease, including coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke, remains the leading cause of death in the United States. The disease kills more than one million people annually- that’s an average of one death every 38 seconds, according to the American Heart Association.
February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to raise awareness of heart health.
Heart disease does not discriminate based on gender; approximately the same number of women and men die of heart disease each year. Though almost 64 percent of women who die suddenly from heart disease did not experience warning signs, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, dizziness and an increased heart rate. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, make sure to consult your doctor.
Whether you are at risk of heart disease or have noticed similar signs, heart disease is often preventable by making simple changes to your lifestyle habits.
Know your risk. Understand your health risk by researching family history and consulting your doctor about simply screening tests. Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk, so be sure to inform your doctor about any history of heart problems in your family.
Eat a healthy diet. Eating a balanced diet is a vital step to warding off serious heart problems. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, salt, cholesterol, trans fat and added sugars. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich grains, fish and nuts. Exercise portion control and eat several meals throughout the day, including starting your day with a balanced breakfast.
Exercise regularly. Incorporating even a small amount of physical activity into your daily schedule may do wonders for your heart. Regardless of your fitness level, there are plenty of exercises to decrease your risk of heart disease. If you don’t exercise regularly, start by taking a 20-minute walk each day to get your body accustomed to consistent activity. If you exercise more frequently, try to work your way up to 150 minutes of exercise per week as recommended by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Reduce stress. Long-term stress can have damaging effects on your body, including increasing your chance of heart disease. Stress increases heart rate and blood pressure, which can harm your artery walls. It can also lead to depression and excessive alcohol abuse, both of which can trigger heart disease.
Get good sleep. Sleep Apnea can cause sudden drops in blood oxygen levels. These sudden drops increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having Obstructive Sleep Apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If you suspect Sleep Apnea, talk to your healthcare provider about a Sleep Study.
Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 480,000 Americans per year. Of these deaths, 41,000 were attributed to secondhand smoke exposure. Quit smoking to lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, as well as other serious illnesses like lung and throat cancer.
Limit alcohol use. Drinking a glass of wine may increase “good” cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. However, excessive drinking puts people at a higher risk of poor cardiovascular health. If you drink regularly, cutting back can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, obesity and stroke.
Prioritizing heart health goes beyond American Heart Month. If you are concerned about your risk factors or want to develop a plan to adopt healthy behaviors, talk to your doctor about how to reduce your risk of heart disease in the future.
Dr. Nizar Issa, Pulmonologist at East Arkansas Medical Group in Forrest City and West Memphis, serves as Forrest City Medical Center’s Sleep Lab Director and also currently serves as FCMC’s Chief of Staff.