Make good lifestyle choices in February to set yourself up for long-term cardiac health
You may know that February is American Heart Month, but did you know that heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the U.S.? That means that each year it leads to 1 of every 4 deaths. But don’t be daunted: there are lots of steps you can take to prevent heart disease. Most of them involve making healthy choices and being proactive in managing your health. So it’s time to step up the self care, for men and women alike.
Here are some of the positive changes you have the power to make:
You probably already know this should be at the top of the list, but there are specific reasons that pertain to heart health. Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, like coronary heart disease and stroke. Even breathing second-hand smoke is dangerous. If you need help quitting, then reach out and get it. Talk to your doctor or check out the American Lung Association’s Stop Smoking website. Quitting protects your lungs, your heart, and those close to you. So make it a priority.
Know the signs of a heart attack
Everyone should know what a heart attack looks and feels like, so there is possibly time to get emergency medical help before too much damage is done to the heart. Most heart attacks start slowly, but every minute counts in a cardiac emergency. Review the American Heart Association’s list of ways to Catch the Signs Early. If you observe any of the following, call an ambulance:
- Shortness of breath.
- Discomfort in the chest. It can also feel like a squeezing sensation or uncomfortable pressure. If this lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes, it could be a heart attack.
- Discomfort in the upper body such as the arms, stomach, back, neck, or jaw.
Also look out for signs of nausea, lightheadedness, or a cold sweat.
Have you looked at your diet from the perspective of heart health? Follow the guidelines from the American Heart Association’s Eat Smart website, which include:
- limiting your intake of sodium
- reducing the amount of sugar you consume
- eating lean cuts of meat and limiting red and fatty meat
- eating a range of vegetables—try to choose items of every color
- limiting the amount of processed grains you consume, and choosing whole grains as much as possible
- controlling your portion sizes to keep your weight under control
Even if you can’t follow these suggestions all the time, try to make improvements every day. Visit the Eat Smart website for more suggestions on making your diet heart-healthy, including recipes, tips, and videos.
See the doctor
There are some signs of heart health that only a checkup can reveal. You want a yearly physical that will determine your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol. Once you have the results of these tests, you and your doctor can make targeted decisions about whether you need to lose weight, change your diet, or take medication. Your doctor should also know about any heart disease that runs in your family, so you can be on the lookout for early signs of hereditary conditions. Make that appointment today—even if you’re young, it can be a life-saver!
Keep a handle on the drinking
Heavy drinking can contribute to a number of health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. But it can also be bad for your heart. Do you know the amounts that translate to the moderate drinking that is recommended? For men this is two drinks per day, and for women it’s only one drink per day. If you drink substantially more than this, talk to your doctor. It is good to devise a safe and effective approach to cutting down on your alcohol intake.
Reduce your stress level
It’s essential to find ways to relieve stress, because it can put a strain on your heart over the long term. Find healthy ways to deal with challenges in your life—rather than smoking, drinking, or overeating. Mindfulness strategies are useful for some people, while others find that cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, or biking can help them feel calmer and more balanced. Find time to be still and do something relaxing you enjoy, such as listen to music or read a good book. If there are considerable sources of stress in your life, look into ways to reduce them or get some help. You may need to talk to a professional, such as a counselor or therapist, to express how you’re feeling and find constructive strategies for whatever you’re dealing with.
Watch your BMI
Do you know what your Body Mass Index (BMI) is? For a healthy heart, you want to keep this within a normal range. To find yours, enter your height and weight into the American Heart Association’s Body Mass Index calculator. Depending on the result, you may want to talk to your doctor about safe and effective ways to lose weight.
Have a workout routine
It’s important for your heart health to stay in good physical shape. According to the American Heart Association, each week you should aim to get 3 to 5 hours of moderate exercise, which can translate to at least 30 minutes a day. If you don’t exercise at all now, then work up gradually to that amount. Start by walking for ten minutes and then gradually increase your pace as well as the distance. Before long you’ll find you are feeling stronger—and not so out of breath. You might even work up to to jogging for a few minutes at a time. Bring a friend along to make your workouts enjoyable, or listen to a book or podcast. If you need ideas, we’ve got some exercise tips to help you fit it into your busy schedule.
Follow your doctor’s advice on medications
Some of us have inherited conditions that require medication to control blood pressure or cholesterol. For others, medication may be necessary because we struggle to eat right and get enough exercise. Whatever the reason, listen to your doctor’s advice and take what you’re prescribed consistently. You want to reap the benefits of the medication, but also be aware of any side effects or warnings, so educate yourself about what you may be taking.
For more heart-healthy tips, visit the American Heart Association’s healthy living website. If you adopt some new habits in February, you may find they can last a lifetime. This is worth the time and effort, because you’ll feel better and be better equipped to do all activities that make life rich and meaningful. So take good care of that heart!
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