Honoring American Heart Month, Guide to a Healthy Heart
February is a month dedicated to celebrating love, and what is the best-known symbol of love? You guessed it, the heart.
Therefore, it’s no coincidence that February is American Heart Month, a time for us to reflect on our heart health and ways to minimize of risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart Disease in America
Every 39 Seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack.
- One person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the United States
- This year more than 800,000 Americans will suffer a heart attack
1 in 5 heart attacks is silent. A silent heart attack happens when the patient doesn’t experience typical cardiac symptoms, so the person doesn’t know it.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in America
- Coronary heart disease kills more than 380,000 people every year
Heart Disease in Texas
- Heart disease is the number one cause of death among adult Texans
- Four in 100 adults suffer a heart attack every year
- For every 100,000 people, an average of 38.6 Texans die from a heart attack every year
These statistics are overwhelming on their own, but they become more painful when you realize that each person is a father, mother, son, or daughter. Heart disease affects us all, which is why caring for our hearts is so important.
Healthy Heart Habits
Certain lifestyle habits help you live longer and keep your heart healthy. These are the most beneficial.
Keep on Moving
Regular exercise can help improve almost every aspect of your health and well-being.
Many studies show that exercising even a little can:
- Enhance your cardiorespiratory system
- Help lower your triglycerides – a type of fat that circulates in your blood
- Increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Reduce inflammation
The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. You can divide this into 30-minute sessions over five days.
Additionally, the CDC strongly recommends muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
Get Your Blood Pressure Under Control
Having high blood pressure (hypertension) makes your heart work harder than it should. Over time the added stress on your blood vessels and arteries can cause them to narrow and stiffen. When this happens, plaque builds up in the artery walls, which can block the blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.
Additionally, the increased mechanical stress in the arteries will ultimately weaken and thicken your heart muscle, making it difficult to pump blood efficiently.
Ideally, your blood pressure should be 120/80, but this can change depending on your age and physical condition. To ensure you get a handle on your blood pressure, work with your doctor and remember to get regular screenings.
Keep an Eye on Your Cholesterol Levels
There are different types of cholesterol, and not all are bad for you. In fact, our bodies need cholesterol to function correctly. However, striking the right balance is critical to your heart health.
- HDL Cholesterol: This is the “good kind” of cholesterol with a protective effect. Higher levels of HDL are associated with better cardiovascular health
- LDL Cholesterol: Higher levels of this type of cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease, so it’s essential to keep your levels of LDL low
- Triglycerides: This is another type of fat that circulates in your bloodstream. Unfortunately, elevated levels increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. For this reason, triglyceride levels need to be kept low
If you are a reasonably healthy adult, you should check your cholesterol levels every 4-6 years. However, people with an increased risk for heart disease and those with known elevated cholesterol levels may need to get tested more often.
Follow a Heart Healthy Diet
Following a healthy diet doesn’t need to be complicated. Ultimately, we can separate foods into three categories:
- Food that is good for you
- Foods that are bad for you
- Neutral foods
Good Foods: Add more fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains, beans, other legumes, and healthy fats like avocadoes and olive oil
Foods to Avoid: Ultra-processed foods such as processed meats like hotdogs, refined carbohydrates including white bread, and beverages containing high amounts of sugar.
Foods to Consume in Moderation: Red meat, cheese, eggs, and butter, are examples of foods you can eat but not excessively.
Many experts consider smoking as one of the leading cardiovascular risk factors. Tobacco is particularly toxic to the heart, causing damage to blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, it lowers HDL cholesterol levels. In addition, it can cause peripheral artery disease and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).
Avoiding secondhand smoke is just as important as quitting smoking. If you are a smoker, we urge you to seek help to quit.
Recognizing a Heart Attack
Please call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms, as they can be signs of a heart attack:
Most common signs of a heart attack:
- Chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes
- Difficulty breathing
- Cold sweat
- Feeling weak or faint
- Pain that radiates from your chest to your arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Unexplained fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting (especially in women)
Time is a major factor, the sooner the better.
Heart attacks are time-sensitive emergencies. Getting appropriate medical help within two hours of the onset of symptoms can make all the difference in preventing long-term disability and death.
Altus Emergency Centers remain open 24/7 year-round. So, if you think you are suffering from a heart attack, don’t delay – rush to the ER.