February is American Heart Month, and it is a time when many within this nation highlight the seriousness of heart disease and ways people can improve their heart health.
According to the CDC, they state that:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial/ethnic groups in the US.
- In the US, 1 person every 36 seconds dies from cardiovascular disease.
- Every year, about 805,000 people in the US have a heart attack.
- According to evidence in 2019, coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease- killing 360,900 people.
- About 18.2 million adults age 20 and older have CAD.
As we can see, heart disease still has a major impact on our nation today. That is why we would like to dedicate this blog to ways that you can live a healthier lifestyle.
How Has the Pandemic Affected People’s Heart Health?
For these last two years, COVID-19 has affected the lives of many. It has also brought on many different obstacles. As we have come to know through research, people with heart disease and other medical conditions have a high risk of developing more severe symptoms/complications with COVID-19 (such as pneumonia or blood clotting). On top of that, Some COVID-19 patients experience racing heartbeats, abnormal heart rhythms, congestion, and shortness of breath.
On top of that, the pandemic led to many people delaying/avoiding going to the hospital or receiving routine care out of concerns about COVID-19 (whether that be due to the risk of contracting the virus, over-stressing the health care system, or not being able to see a doctor). Due to all these difficulties, worries, and changes of lockdown, it also led to an increase in people drinking more alcohol, limiting their physical activity, or eating a poor diet- which can increase one’s chances of developing heart disease.
What Can I Do to Aim for Optimal Heart Health?
Having a healthy heart has never been more important during this time. That is why this February, we are encouraging everyone to start reclaiming back control of their mental and physical health. People can make different life choices to improve their cardiovascular (and overall) health. These include:
- Manage Your Blood Pressure
- High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Thus, keeping track of your blood pressure and ensuring it stays within a healthy range can reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys.
- At age 18, your blood pressure should be measured at least once every two years.
- People between 18-39 known to have a higher risk should be screened once a year. Meanwhile, people 40 years or older should have it measured yearly.
- Control Your Cholesterol
- High cholesterol leads to a buildup of plaque- which can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. By controlling your cholesterol, you can prevent plaque from blocking your arteries.
- Adults should have their cholesterol measured once every 4-6 years.
- Cholesterol screening can start at age 20, but those at high risk can start earlier.
- Reduce Your Blood Sugar
- High levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
- Diabetes is also known as a risk factor for heart disease. Screening for type 2 diabetes is usually recommended for those age 45 (with retesting done every 2 years). However, if you have a higher risk, you can get screened early.
- Avoid Smoking or Using Tobacco
- Smoking Cigarettes (or secondhand smoking or chewing tobacco) leads to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. The chemicals in tobacco can damage the heart and blood vessels. Meanwhile, cigarette smoke reduces oxygen in the blood, increases blood pressure, and increases heart rate.
- As soon as someone quits, someone’s risk of heart disease drops. After one year, someone’s risk of heart disease drops to half of someone who smokes. It is never too late to stop.
- Get Active
- It is recommended to aim for at least 30-60 minutes of daily activity.
- If you are not used to being active for a while, you must start slow to reduce your chance of getting hurt. However, ideally, you should at least aim to complete:
- 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise (such as walking at a brisk pace).
- Or 75 min a week of vigorous activity (such as running).
- Two or more strength training sessions a week.
- However, the overall goal is that you at least move in ways that you enjoy. You don’t need to accomplish strenuous activity to see the benefits.
- Exercise and daily activity can help you in maintaining a healthy weight and reduce your chances of developing conditions that can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes. Thus, your risks of developing heart disease are significantly lowered.
- Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
- Eating a healthy diet can improve your chances of feeling good and staying healthy. It can help protect your heart, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- You should aim to have a diet rich in:
- Vegetable and fruits
- Beans and/or other legumes
- Lean meats and fish
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats
- It is also recommended that you limit your consumption of:
- Processed foods
- Saturated and trans fat
- You don’t need to completely cut out foods that you enjoy from your diet. However, by eating a healthy and balanced diet- you can live a happy and balanced lifestyle.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Studies show that obesity can increase the risk of heart disease. Excess weight can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
- Of course, it is important to keep in mind that each individual’s “healthy weight” looks different for everyone. The goal is to work towards maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
- Not getting enough sleep can lead to a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and depression.
- Adults (age 18-60) generally need 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Those who are older (61-64) need about 7-9 Horus of sleep. Those 65 years and older need about 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Try to create a sleep schedule where you fall asleep and wake up around the same time each day.
- Try avoiding large/heavy meals before going to bed (to avoid any digestive discomfort). And avoid nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol because they can disrupt your sleep.
- Limit the number of naps you take during the day.
- Try creating a dark and peaceful environment in your bedroom to make falling asleep easier.
- Physical activity can also help you get a restful night of sleep.
- If you have any issues falling asleep, consider talking with your doctor to find out the cause.
- Manage Your Stress
- Learn how you can manage your stress in healthy ways. Sometimes stress can lead to some people engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or overconsumption of drinking or smoking.
- Consider managing your stress through physical activity, relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, journaling, having a self-care routine, etc.
How Does Heart Disease Prevention Look Like for Different Age Groups?
For the most part, everyone can benefit from eating a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity, and living an overall healthy lifestyle. However, as you age, you must make more health-conscious choices to ensure that you are taking care of your heart.
- It is never too early to start taking care of your heart. It will benefit you in the long run.
- Regularly go to your doctor’s appointments and have regular wellness exams. Take the time to discuss with your doctor your diet and lifestyle. Get your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, and blood sugar checked.
- Be physically active. Created a fun workout routine that you find fun.
- Start eating a healthy diet.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
- By this age, many people have to worry about balancing their career and family- which often leaves them with little time to worry about their health.
- Include your family in living a healthy and active lifestyle. Plan out days to go to a park or hike.
- Find healthy ways to manage your stress. Stress can increase your heart rate and blood pressure- which can damage your artery’s walls.
- Have your cholesterol checked at least once in your 30s. Studies show that the longer you have high cholesterol, you increase your risk of heart disease.
- Know your family history. It can help you strengthen your focus on risk factors that you can control. You can also notify your doctor about any heart problems that run in your family.
- Maintain a healthy weight (metabolism may start to slow down at this age).
- Ensure that you still find time to incorporate exercise into your routine.
- Have your blood sugar checked.
- Ensure that you are getting a good night’s rest.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- For women, be aware that one’s risk of heart disease increases with menopause. During this time, one may experience changes in cholesterol levels, and one’s blood pressure may go up.
- Learn about the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Women tend to experience more subtle heart attack symptoms (such as nausea or fatigue) than men. Not everyone experiences numbness with a stroke or chest pain with a heart attack.
- Follow a treatment plan. Many are often diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other conditions (which increase your risk of heart disease) by this age. Thus, you must follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Your metabolism tends to slow down as you age.
- Keep up with regular physical activity. No matter your age, you can always benefit from regular exercise.
- Brush up on your knowledge on warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.
- Ask your doctor about an ankle-brachial index test. This test measures the pulse in your feet, and it can help diagnose peripheral artery disease.