February is the American Month of the Heart, a time to reflect on the fact that heart disease remains the first killer of women and men in the United States. The good news is that you have the power to protect and improve your heart health.
Government agencies have worked to advance the understanding of heart disease so that people can live longer and healthier lives. Research has found that you can reduce the risk of heart disease by simply adopting reasonable health habits.
To protect the heart, the first step is to know your own personal risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors are conditions or habits that make the development of a disease more likely. Risk factors can also increase the likelihood of an existing disease becoming worse.
Some risk factors, such as old age or a family history of heart disease, cannot be changed. But you can control some important risk factors, such as high cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, overweight, diabetes and physical inactivity. Many people have more than one risk factor. To safeguard the heart, it is better to reduce or eliminate as many factors as possible, because they tend to “coalesce” and worsen the mutual effects.
A large study funded by the NIH and published last month highlights the importance of managing your own risk factors. Scientists have found that middle-aged adults with one or more high risk factors, Such as hypertension, they were much more likely to have a heart attack or another major heart event in their lifetime than people with optimal levels of risk factors.
“For example, women with at least 2 major risk factors were 3 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women with no risk factor or with only one risk factor,” says Susan B. Shurin, Interim Director of NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “You can and must make a difference to your heart health by understanding and addressing your personal risk”.
To address heart risk factors, it is useful to know your own numbers. Ask your doctor to measure your cholesterol and blood pressure. So, determine if your weight falls within the range of healthy values.
The higher the cholesterol, the higher the risk of heart disease or heart attack. High blood cholesterol alone doesn’t cause symptoms, so you can’t know if your cholesterol is too high until you’ve had a blood test. Normal blood tests can show total cholesterol and separately LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. All these blood counts are related to your heart.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is another important risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Hypertension is often called “silent killer” because, like high cholesterol, it usually presents no symptoms. Blood pressure is always indicated by two numbers, and any value above 120/80 mmhg increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“It is scientifically proven that the control of cholesterol and hypertension prevents heart events such as heart attacks,” says Dr Michael Lauer, a specialist in heart disease at the NIH.
So take a tape measure. A waist size greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men increases the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions. Fortunately, even a small weight loss (between 5% and 10% of your current weight) can help reduce your risk.
A heart-sound eating routine incorporates various organic products, vegetables, and entire grains, as well as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and low-fat or low-fat dairy items. Attempt to keep away from soaked fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt) and added sugars.
Regular physical activity is another effective way to reduce the risk of heart problems and enjoy a number of other health benefits. To make physical activity a pleasure rather than a job, choose activities you like. Take a quick walk, play ball, lift light weights, dance or garden. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a difference.
“At least 2.5 hours per week of moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes: a winning result on several fronts,” says Dr Diane Bild, cardiovascular epidemiologist .
If you have diabetes, it is important to keep your blood sugar, or glucose under control. About two thirds of people with diabetes die from heart disease or blood vessels. If you are at risk of diabetes, small changes in your diet and level of physical activity can often prevent or delay your development.
If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do for your heart is to quit. People who smoke up to 6 times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. The risk of heart attack increases with the number of cigarettes smoked every day.
The good news is that quitting smoking will immediately begin to reduce your risk, and the benefit of risk reduction will continue to increase over time. Already a year after quitting smoking, the risk will be reduced by more than half.
In addition to controlling the risk factors, you need to pay attention to certain symptoms and get checked out by a doctor. The most common signals that indicate that something is wrong in the heart are angina (pain in the chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back), wheezing, irregular heartbeat or palpitations (arrhythmia) and fatigue.
Symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. If you have already had a heart attack, the symptoms may not be the same if you have another.
Finally, don’t forget that you can influence the health of your loved ones’ hearts by setting a good example. Do you have children, grandchildren or other young people who admire you? If you follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, they are more likely to do so too. Because heart disease starts in childhood, one of the best things you can do for those you love is to help children build strong bodies and healthy habits.
In conclusion, it is never too late to take steps to protect the heart. Nor is it ever too early. Start keeping your heart strong today. Talk to your doctor about your risk and create a plan of action. Love your own heart.
Protect the heart
- Maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Choose more healthy foods for the heart.
- Do and maintain physical activity.
- Know your family history.
- Learn to recognize the signs that something is wrong.