February is all about hearts. Heart shaped candies, heart decorated cards, and of course the most important heart – American Heart Month!
American Heart Month is a time dedicated to increasing awareness for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes a number of conditions like heart attacks and strokes. For more information on types of cardiovascular diseases visit the American Heart Association.
You might be surprised to learn that the CDC reports one person dies every 36 seconds in
the United States from cardiovascular disease. That is one in every four deaths.
Globally, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, totaling more than 17.3 million deaths per year. And while this total is already terrifying, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association say it’s expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030.
So, what can you do? The good news is cardiovascular disease is largely preventable! Put your heart health first by following these 5 steps.
1. Manage Existing Conditions
There are numerous conditions that increase a person’s risk for heart disease. The top three leading contributors to heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. Other contributing conditions may include diabetes, obesity, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. If you have any of these conditions, be sure to talk to your doctor about proper management.
2. Exercise – It’s not as much as you might think.
You don’t have to be a fitness junky or even have a gym membership to do the kind of exercise needed to prevent heart disease. A brisk 10 minute walk every day is great way to begin getting the exercise you need to keep your heart healthy. At just 10 minutes long, this short walk is easy to fit in between meetings, during a lunch break, or even after dinner. We dare you to make it longer!
3. Quit smoking.
Quitting smoking can be hard but the benefits for your body happen quickly. Your risk of coronary artery disease drops dramatically within 1-2 years after cessation. At around 4-6 years your risk drops by half and by year 15 it will have declined to about the same level of risk for someone who has never smoked. If you are struggling to quit smoking, ask your doctor about medications, counseling, or local support groups to help you kick the habit.
4. Choose a Healthy Diet
Choosing a diet of healthy foods significantly lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease including both coronary artery disease and stroke. A healthy diet includes foods from a variety of groups. Fruits, vegetables, fiber, and foods with a low glycemic index are all heart healthy options. Examples of foods with a low glycemic index include green vegetables, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and Bran breakfast cereal. Another healthy diet tip is choosing monounsaturated fats (good fats) over trans fatty acids or saturated fats (bad fats). Good fats can be found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. For a deeper dive into heart healthy diets, take a look at these recommendations made by the Mayo Clinic.
5. Reduce Sugar and Sodium Intake
This is such an important step that it deserves its own number. Regardless of a person’s weight, diets with excessive amounts of sugar may increase the risk of coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men. Cutting out just one sugary soda each day can easily save you 120 or more calories. Over a year, that can translate into 10 pounds of weight loss!
Like sugar, sodium has its own risks for cardiovascular disease. Excessive sodium intake is linked to water retention which can cause high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Sodium is a hidden ingredient in many things so be sure to read the nutrition labels before diving into that granola bar or frozen dinner. *Pro tip!* Instead of going straight for the salt to flavor your dish, try replacing it with other herbs and spices. Who knows, you may actually prefer it!
It's time to take charge of your heart health. Your doctor can help you navigate healthy diets, exercise plans, and other programs to steer you in the direction to a healthier you. Early detection is the key to treating hypertension and diabetes. Don’t delay. Call your doctor today and schedule a visit to talk about your heart health.