It has been easy during the Covid-19 pandemic to forget about preventing heart disease so it’s time to relearn the basics.
The statistics remain grim: heart disease continues to be the number 1 killer in the U.S. among both men and women. A quarter of U.S. deaths are from heart disease, which is about 655,000 Americans. Treating heart disease is expensive as well, for both the individual and our health care system: annual costs of treating heart disease in 2014-2015 were about $315.2 billion.
There are multiple ways in which you can maintain a healthy heart and protect yourself from heart disease.
YOUR HEART LOVES A HEALTHY DIET
Eat healthy and watch those portions! What does a healthy diet look like?
- Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and nuts
- Fish and chicken instead of red meat
- Low-fat dairy products
- Food with low sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat
Here’s an amazing resource from the American Heart Association for eating smart, losing weight, and cooking healthy recipes.
YOUR HEART LOVES BEING STRESSED BY EXERCISE
Whether you do moderate or intense exercise is your choice, but try to build in 20-30 minutes of activity in your daily routine. The American Heart Association provides recommendations on physical activity for both adults and kids—at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity for adults each week, and 60 minutes of daily activity for children.
KEEP UP ON WELLNESS EXAMS
Make sure you initiate a conversation about heart health, a healthy diet, and exercise routine with your physician. Your annual physical exam should include checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart rate, and blood sugar. Preventing heart disease is always a better than being forced to treat it.
AVOID SMOKING/VAPING AND SECOND-HAND SMOKE
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Research studies are also pointing to adverse effects of vaping/e-cigarettes. Smoking:
- Increases triglycerides
- Lowers the good cholesterol (HDL)
- Increases the risk of blood clots
- Thickens and narrows blood vessels
- All these factors together increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Here are some steps that can help you quit smoking.
Exposure to second-hand smoke – inhaling smoke vapors – also increases your risk of heart disease (25-30%) and stroke (20-30%) and is responsible for more than 40,000 deaths due to heart attack or stroke. Avoid breathing second-hand smoke!
BE AWARE OF YOUR FAMILY HISTORY OF HEART DISEASE
Talk to your parents, grandparent, cousins—find out about their heart health. Having a close family member with heart disease means you might be at an increased risk of developing it yourself. If so, paying attention to your diet, maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy weight, and quitting smoking become all the more important.
Make sure your doctor is aware of heart problems within your family. Knowing you may be predisposed will help your doctor plan for preventing heart disease.
STAY HAPPY/MEDITATE/REDUCE STRESS
Stress reduction and meditation should be adopted for an overall healthy life, not just to reduce the risk of heart disease. Stress increases heart rate and blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels.
Here’s a useful infographic with tips on reducing stress and a guide on speaking to your doctor about maintaining your blood pressure.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF HEART ATTACK AND STROKE
Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and may be different in women than in men:
- Chest discomfort, such as pressure, squeezing, pain, or fullness
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the body, such as arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath, which may accompany chest discomfort
- Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness
- While women also experience chest pain, they may be more susceptible to shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Many of us have delayed or avoided going to a clinic or a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many might even have ignored symptoms associated with heart disease. The month of February—designated as American Heart Month—is an opportune time to remind us of the importance of taking the steps towards preventing heart disease, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle!
Surabhi Dangi-GarimelllaSurabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brought her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.
FROM THE EDITOR:
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