Showing Your Heart Some Love
February is American Heart Month. During a time when many people are focused on Valentine’s hearts, it’s also a time to take stock of the muscle that keeps us alive and kicking.
The average heart beats more than 115,000 times a day, in spite of the neglect and abuse it often receives. 6 million Americans struggle with heart failure and more than two thousand die every day from heart disease. Heredity accounts for some cases of heart failure, but about 80% of cases can be prevented or significantly delayed with healthier lifestyle choices. Research suggests that adopting even one healthy lifestyle habit can be enough to substantially lower your risk of heart failure, and more you incorporate, the better the chances your heart will remain healthy and vigorous.
Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the number one contributor to heart disease. If you have high blood pressure, it is important to take steps to get it under control. Know your numbers and take steps to keep it in a healthy range, including eating better, exercising more, managing stress and, if necessary, taking medication.
Yes, we have all heard this recommendation a million times, but it’s never too late to start being more active. People capable of intense activities like running/jogging, rowing or climbing can reach their goals exercising just 75 minutes a week – that’s less time than it takes to watch the average movie. Most people, however, should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking, hiking, swimming or biking. To put it in perspective, that’s only 2.5 hours worth of exercise a week. If you haven’t exercised in awhile, start with 10 minutes a day and increase your time and effort a bit each week. Like any muscle, the heart responds favorably to efforts aimed at making it grow stronger. Exercise is also highly effective in lowering blood pressure.
Make Better Food Choices
Yes, again, eat more vegetables and fruits and less processed food, meat and dairy, which can contain high levels of salt, sugar and LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Eating more vegetables and fruits delivers essential nutrients and fiber with relatively few calories, to help you keep and maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. Studies suggest that obesity increases the average 40+ person’s chances of developing heart failure by 15% – 21%, so eating right and exercising regularly are crucial to heart health.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels
If your LDL cholesterol is 200 or higher, you’re in a high-risk category for cardiovascular
disease. Try lowering your cholesterol with changes in diet, and if that isn’t enough, talk to your doctor about other options.
Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar
Eating regular doses of processed foods and added sugar can send your blood sugar soaring. Again, eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains can help reduce blood sugar and make you feel better, too, so you’ll be more likely to exercise. Most fruit has enough fiber and nutrients to balance its sugar content, but avoid fruit drinks, which are low in fiber and high in sugar. If you have diabetes, it is especially important to keep your blood sugar monitored and treated.
The American Heart Association labels smoking as the nation’s most preventable cause of heart disease and premature death. Smoking can more than double your risk of heart failure, so even if you have tried to quit multiple times, try again. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit, which may include support groups or medication. The good news is that quitting leads to quick improvements in health, so it’s never too late to start living a healthier life.
Get Your Heart Health Tested
Cardiac diseases and disorders can be caught before they result in heart failure. People with unexplained chest pain, chest pain brought on by exercise (angina), chronic shortness of breath, a troubling stress test or coronary calcium score or other symptoms of possible heart failure should talk to their doctor about cardiac imaging.
RAI offers advanced imaging services designed to assess heart health and catch problems before they cause permanent damage or even fatal events. Our full line of cardiac disease and coronary artery stenosis diagnostic testing includes coronary CT angiography (CCTA), ultrasound, echocardiography, cardiac MRI, myocardial perfusion exams and cardiac nuclear medicine, interpreted and shared with your doctor by RAI’s cardiac-trained radiologists.
Caught early, most cases of heart disease can be prevented, reversed or managed, so don’t wait to take better care of your heart. Start reducing your bad habits and increasing your good ones today – your heart will love you for it.