February: American Heart Month

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Did you know … Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States? Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.

But did you also know … that heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions?

You can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease. To lower your risk:

  • Get active. Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease as those who are active. That being said, one of the most important things you can do for your heart health is being physically active. Even a modest amount of activity is good for your health but the more active you are, the more your heart will benefit. One great way of getting in physical exercise throughout the day is walking. So brush off that Fitbit, take the stairs, pick the parking spot furthest from the entrance, and get some fresh air on an evening stroll to destress and clear your mind. Make sure you join the Atlantic Wellness step challenges to encourage daily movement.
  • Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of coronary heart disease  and heart attack. This is mainly because overweight and obesity are linked to other CHD risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Eat healthy. An unhealthy diet can raise your risk of CHD. Some tips for a heart healthy diet include:
    • Eat lots of nutrient dense vegetables and some fruit
    • Make sure to include omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, & olive oil
    • Bake or roast foods over frying to avoid
    • Significantly reduce your sugar intake, avoid foods with added sugar such as soft drinks and candy
    • Limit your salt intake
    • Avoid processed foods
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Smoking triggers a buildup of plaque in your arteries and also increases the risk of blood clots forming in your arteries. Blood clots can block plaque-narrowed arteries and cause a heart attack. Some research shows that smoking raises your risk of CHD in part by lowering HDL cholesterol. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of heart attack. The benefits of quitting smoking occur no matter how long or how much you’ve smoked. Heart disease risk associated with smoking begins to decrease soon after you quit, and for many people it continues to decrease over time. Visit https://smokefree.gov for information and help to start your journey to a smoke free life.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. Healthy levels of both LDL and HDL cholesterol will prevent plaque from building up in your arteries. Routine blood tests can show whether your blood cholesterol levels are healthy. Talk with your doctor about having your cholesterol tested and what the results mean.”Blood pressure” is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup. All levels above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk of CHD. This risk grows as blood pressure levels rise. Only one of the two blood pressure numbers has to be above normal to put you at greater risk of CHD and heart attack. Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, you’ll likely need to be checked more often. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked.
  • Manage Diabetes and Prediabetes. Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s blood sugar level is too high. The two types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s blood sugar level is high because the body doesn’t make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells, where it’s used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s blood sugar level is high mainly because the body doesn’t use its insulin properly. Over time, a high blood sugar level can lead to increased plaque buildup in your arteries. Having diabetes doubles your risk of CHD. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not as high as it is in diabetes. If you have prediabetes and don’t take steps to manage it, you’ll likely develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. You’re also at higher risk of CHD. Being overweight or obese raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people who have prediabetes may be able to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. They also may be able to lower their risk of CHD and heart attack. Weight loss and physical activity also can help control diabetes.
  • Destress. Stress and anxiety may play a role in causing CHD. Stress and anxiety also can trigger your arteries to tighten. This can raise your blood pressure and your risk of heart attack. The most commonly reported trigger for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, especially one involving anger. Try going on a walk, meditation, or deep breaths. It’s also a good idea to use daily physical activity as a healthy way to reduce stress.

Sources:
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/heart-month/learn-more-about-heart-disease
https://healthfinder.gov/NHO/FebruaryToolkit.aspx#announcement

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