12 Ways to Protect Your Heart

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February is the month of love, but it’s also American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S. According to the CDC, one out of every four American deaths is caused by heart disease. The combined costs of health care, medication and lost productivity due to this disease costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. That’s a hefty number that cannot be ignored.

Almost half of all Americans have at least one warning sign of heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high “bad” LDL cholesterol and smoking. According to the Heart Foundation, someone in the U.S. dies every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Occasionally, one medical problem can lead to another. The American Heart Association states that people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease and a stroke. They are also more likely to have high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, obesity, low activity levels and to smoke.

Heart disease isn’t the only worry when it comes to your heart. Each year, about 515,000 people have their first heart attack. Forty-two percent of women die within one year of having a heart attack. Only 24% of men die in that same period. Several studies have also linked pollution to serious heart problems like irregular heartbeat and nonfatal heart attacks. Breathing in very tiny particles can cause combined respiratory and heart conditions. 

Take the time to show your heart some love with these great ways to keep it healthy.

Ways to Protect Your Heart

1. Quit Smoking

Smoking has been proven to lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, which leads to heart disease and eventually a heart attack. Smoking also increases your blood pressure and increases inactivity due to an inability to exercise enough. When you smoke, your ability to breathe properly and take in enough oxygen decreases. Smoking can also increase the likelihood of developing a blood clot. Quit smoking today to help your heart.

2.  Limit Alcohol Consumption

Drinking large amounts of alcohol raises the amount of fat in your blood. Excessive drinking can also increase your blood pressure, plus you will be consuming extra calories you don’t need and increasing your chances of diabetes and obesity. Your risk of stroke, heart failure and sudden cardiac death also increases with binge drinking. The American Heart Association recommends that men drink no more than one or two drinks per day, and women drink no more than one drink per day.

3. Stress Management

High levels of stress increase your heart rate and blood pressure levels. After extended periods of being stressed, this can cause damage to your heart. It can create irregular heartbeats, damage your arteries and weaken your immune system.  The American Psychological Association offers five tips for managing stress, including taking a step back from your stressor, exercising, smiling, sharing your feelings and meditating.

4. Lose Weight

Achieving and staying at a healthy weight is imperative to your heart health. Being overweight is a major risk factor in several conditions and diseases like coronary heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke. Manage your weight with healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle changes.

5. Eat Heart-Healthy

Some people get stuck in a food rut when it comes to eating healthy. It’s important for your heart to eat a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and nuts. It’s important read the Nutrition Facts on processed foods to avoid trans fat and high amounts of sodium.

6. Exercise

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week.  In addition to aerobic activity, the American Heart Association also recommends moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening two days per week. Exercising can help your overall cardiovascular health, as well as lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. The type of exercise can vary based on your interests. If you’re not into jogging or lifting weights, try climbing stairs, dancing, playing sports, swimming or biking!

7. Check Your Cholesterol

Talk with your doctor about getting your cholesterol regularly checked. High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart issues like heart disease or heart attack. Your cholesterol levels can be managed with a heart-healthy diet, staying at a healthy weight and exercising.

8. Check Your Blood Pressure

Having high blood pressure can lead to problems such as the hardening of your arteries, weak blood vessels, narrowing of blood vessels and stress on the heart. These complications can lead to heart attack, stroke, aneurysm and heart failure. Blood pressure can be managed by eating heart-healthy foods, limiting your salt intake, staying at a healthy weight, exercising and not smoking. Talk with your doctor about your blood pressure to find out if there is a cause for concern.

9. Sleep

A study done by the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia showed a link between not getting enough sleep and a higher risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Those participants who had more than nine hours of sleep did not have any health-related side effects. Getting a full night of sleep could benefit your heart health and help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.

10. Know Your Family History

Conditions like heart disease have a tendency to run in families. If a member of your family has heart disease, or if several members have heart disease, there is a strong chance that you have a higher risk of developing heart disease as well. Take the time to talk with your family members about their medical history and share this information with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend preventative measures for those who have family history of a disease or condition.

11. Know Heart Attack Warning Signs

It’s possible that you could experience the signs of a heart attack days before one occurs. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately:

  • Chest discomfort, pain or pressure

  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

  • Nausea

  • Lightheadedness

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort, but women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

12. Laugh

Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found a strong correlation between a low risk of heart disease, laughing frequently and having a sense of humor. The study showed that people with heart disease didn’t laugh as often as those without heart disease. The heart disease group also displayed more hostility and anger than the healthy group. Laughter can be a natural or learned behavior, and it can be incorporated into anyone's day very easily.

The time to start loving your heart is now! Trust the Cardiac Services staff at Greene County Medical Center for all of your heart-health rehabilitation needs. It’s not too late to start protecting your heart.