Focus on Heart Health

Feb 6, 2020

Heart disease, including coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke, remains the leading cause of death in the United States. The disease claims 647,000 lives annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to focus on heart health and strategies to reduce the risk of this increasingly fatal disease.

Heart disease does not discriminate based on gender; almost as many women as men die of heart disease each year. Though almost 64 percent of women who die suddenly from heart disease did not experience warning signs, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea and dizziness. Make sure to consult your doctor if you have experienced any of these symptoms.

Several medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also increase someone’s risk of heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Consuming too much alcohol

Whether you are at risk of heart disease or have noticed similar signs, heart disease is often preventable by making simple lifestyle changes.

Know your risk. Understand your health risk by assessing your family history. Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk, so be sure to inform your doctor about any history of heart problems in your family and ask for a screening test.

Eat a heart-healthy diet. A nutritious diet can help protect your heart, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Limit foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat and avoid added salt and sugars. Try to fill at least half of your plate with fruits or vegetables and incorporate fiber-rich grains, fish and nuts into your diet. Exercise portion control and eat several meals throughout the day, beginning with a balanced breakfast in the morning.

Exercise regularly. Incorporating even a small amount of physical activity in your daily schedule can do wonders for your heart. Regardless of your fitness level, there are plenty of exercises to help you control your weight and decrease your risk of heart disease. If you don’t exercise regularly, start by taking a 20-minute walk each day. If you exercise more frequently, try to work your way up to 150 minutes of exercise per week as recommended by the American Heart Association.

Reduce stress. Long-term stress can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also lead to overeating, heavy drinking and smoking, all of which can trigger heart disease. Find alternative ways to manage stress, such as physical activity, listening to music, relaxation exercises or meditation.

Don’t smoke. Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year. Quit smoking to lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases and other serious illnesses like lung and throat cancer.

Limit alcohol use. Excessive alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke, liver cancer and other serious diseases. If you drink, try to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than two drinks per day for women.

Prioritizing heart health goes beyond American Heart Month. If you are concerned about your risk factors or want to develop a plan to adopt healthy behaviors, talk to your doctor about how to reduce your risk of heart disease in the future.