February is American Heart Month, a time to recommit to making the diet and lifestyle choices needed to keep your heart healthy and strong. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States. A loved one dies from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds in the U.S., resulting in around 655,000 lost lives every year. This February, show your heart some love by honestly assessing your heart health, lifestyle, and genetic risk factors and then making decisions in collaboration with your doctor to lead a heart-healthy life moving forward.
1. Quit Smoking.
If you are a smoker, the number one thing you can do to improve your heart health is quitting smoking. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. The over 7,000 toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart. They can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This generic term includes those conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and aneurysm. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor, or get help from Smoke-Free Oregon or the Montana Tobacco Quit Line.
2. Get Active.
Even individuals with heart disease risk factors benefit from regular activity. Those who stay active lower their risk of early death compared to those who lead sedentary lifestyles. Strengthen your heart by getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week. Before you start a new fitness routine or make any dramatic changes to your existing habits, talk to your doctor to ensure you choose activities appropriate for your current level of health and cardiovascular capabilities.
3. Get Enough Sleep.
Adults who sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to present with such health problems as heart attack, asthma, and depression. Unfortunately, about a third of American adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep per night. Some common reasons people struggle to get enough sleep may include stress, caffeine intake, an inconsistent sleep schedule, or too much time late at night on an electronic device like a smartphone, laptop, or television. If you need help adjusting your sleep schedule and improving your sleep quality, talk to your doctor (and know that regular exercise and quitting smoking can help too).
4. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet.
A diet high in fat can increase your risk of developing a dangerous heart disease. When fatty deposits in the blood build up over time, they narrow the arteries in the heart, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Fuel your heart with lean proteins, healthy grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of sugary processed beverages and foods, salty, fried foods, and fast food high in saturated fats. Add to your diet such superfoods as lean meat and fish, oatmeal that’s high in fiber, blueberries, leafy greens, and healthy nuts like almonds.
5. Reduce Stress.
Researchers believe that stress may affect lifestyle behaviors and health factors that increase your risk of heart disease risk, including smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet choices, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. While many aspects of your life—from work to family to social pressures—may be causing you stress, every effort you can make to lead an emotionally healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your heart health and happiness. If you worry that stress could be negatively impacting your emotional and physical health, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.
6. Have Regular Wellness Exams.
The best asset in your quest for optimal heart health is your doctor. Make sure you are following age and risk factor appropriate recommendations for regular health screenings with your doctor. If you do not currently have a primary care provider (PCP), our compassionate providers at Nova Health are accepting new patients. Find a location near you, or make an appointment for a secure and convenient telemedicine visit.