You Have the Power to Protect Your Heart Health

 

You Have the Power to Protect Your Heart Health

You Have the Power to Protect Your Heart Health
CATEGORIES: Health
lisa knight By Guest Blogger Lisa M. Knight, Office of Communications, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health February is American Heart Month, providing an annual reminder to take your heart health seriously. Heart disease is the leading killer of American men and women, more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attackstroke and other serious health problems. And heart disease is a lifelong condition – once you get it, you’ll always have it. The good news is that you can take action to protect your heart health. Heart disease is largely preventable and manageable.   Here are steps to get you started as you take charge of your heart health this February: Step 1. Know your risk. Understand the risk factors for heart disease – that is, the conditions or habits that increase your chance of getting the disease. Having just one risk factor increases your risk for heart disease. Having more than one risk factor is especially serious, because risk factors tend to “gang up” and worsen each other’s effects. Risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are cigarette smoking, high blood pressurehigh blood cholesterol,overweight, lack of physical activity, diabetes and pre-diabetes, unhealthy diet and stress. Only a few risk factors – such as age, gender and family history – can’t be controlled. Many people have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and some risk factors (such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol) don’t always have obvious signs or symptoms. So don’t wait for your health care provider to mention heart disease or its risk factors. Make an appointment, and tell him or her that you want to keep your heart healthy and would like help in achieving that goal. Ask questions about your chances of developing heart disease and how you can lower your risk. Step 2. Take action to lower your risk. Once you’ve learned your personal risk for heart disease, your doctor or health care team will be valuable partners in helping you set and reach goals for heart health. A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk for heart disease. Aim to eat healthy foods, be active, stop smoking and “know your numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI) and blood glucose). For most of us, taking action means changing our daily habits, which can be a real challenge. Set specific, realistic goals, and try tackling only one habit at a time. Remember that nobody’s perfect. No one always eats the ideal diet or gets just the right amount of physical activity, and it may take more than one try to make a long-term change. Figure out what’s stopping you from making or sticking to healthy habits. Get back on track when you slip up. Making small changes can make the healthy choice an easy choice. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot and walk and serve fruit instead of cookies or ice cream for dessert. Check out these tips on healthy cooking and snacking, and this pocket guide for tips on how to select healthier options while eating “on the go” (take-out or dining out). Step 3. Embrace a heart healthy lifestyle. Heart healthy living matters because even if you don’t have heart disease, you may have conditions or habits that can lead to heart disease. What does “heart healthy” mean? A heart healthy lifestyle includes following a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and managing stress. A heart healthy lifestyle can lower your risk for heart disease or, if you already have heart disease, help keep it from getting worse. To break it down:
  • Follow a healthy diet – A healthy diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. A healthy diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt) and added sugars. (Check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov.)
  • Be physically active – People of all ages and abilities can be physically active. Benefits include improved fitness, improved mental health and better ability to do everyday tasks. Talk with your health care provider about what types and amounts of activity are safe for you. (Check outhttp://www.health.gov/paguidelines/.)
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Your weight is the result of many factors, such as environment, family history and genetics, metabolism and behavior or habits. If you’re overweight or obese, work with your health care provider to create a reasonable weight-loss program that combines a healthy eating plan, correct portion sizes and physical activity. (This booklet contains practical information and tips.)
  • Quit smoking – If you smoke, quit. Try new activities or hobbies to replace smoking. Talk with your health care provider about programs and products that can help you quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. (Check out http://betobaccofree.hhs.gov.)
  • Manage stress – Stress is a part of day-to-day life. Learning how to manage stress, relax and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health.
Finally, make following a heart healthy lifestyle a family goal. The best time to start learning heart healthy habits is in childhood because our habits shape our lives. Also, heart disease develops gradually and can start at a young age – but it’s never too late to make changes for heart health. Step 4. Spread the message. If you’ve got a heart, heart disease could be your problem. Fortunately, you have tremendous power to prevent heart disease and you can start today. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of heart health. Share what you learn about how to prevent or manage heart disease. Invite them to join you in learning new heart healthy habits. If you make lifestyle changes a group effort, the changes will be easier (and more fun!). Let American Heart Month inspire you to make changes now for a lifetime of heart health. Lisa M. Knight is a science writer-editor in the communications office of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which conducts and supports research that protects and improves the health of all Americans. She supports the development of health education materials and the translation of complex scientific discoveries into actionable health information. Visit the NHLBI website to find Health Topics articles, which provide science-based, plain-language information about heart, lung and blood diseases and conditions; a BMI calculator and other healthy weight resources; healthy recipes on the Healthy Eating website; and an online catalog of educational materials.  

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