It’s all about the heart this month. Along with Valentine’s Day, February is American Heart Month — a great time to take the subject of heart health … to heart.
Sometimes, even modest changes in your habits can make a difference in your health. Here are things you can do to get started on your heart healthy year.
1. Manage your blood pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. You may have heard that the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recently redefined high blood pressure as a reading of 130/80 rather than 140/90. The new definition means almost half of the U.S. adult population (about 46 percent) has high blood pressure.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Damage to blood vessels begins as soon as blood pressure is elevated. By recognizing high blood pressure earlier with the new definition, people can make lifestyle changes earlier that can lower their blood pressure for the long term — often without medication. Talk with your doctor about your blood pressure and how frequently you should have it checked.
2. Control your cholesterol
High cholesterol can contribute to plaque, which can clog arteries, increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Controlling your cholesterol helps your arteries remain clean of blockages. Your doctor can order a blood test to determine your cholesterol readings and, if necessary, recommend diet and exercise changes, and possibly medication.
3. Reduce your blood sugar
Much of the food we eat is turned into glucose (blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, though, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
If you have a family history of diabetes or you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthy and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes, reduce the progression of type 2 diabetes, and control type 1 diabetes.
4. Add exercise to your daily routine
Daily physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to lower your chances of heart disease. And walking is the simplest positive change you can make to improve your heart health.
The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Even 10-minute activity sessions — a walk, for example — can be added up over the week to meet this goal.
5. Eat a heart-healthy diet
One of the best defenses against cardiovascular disease is a healthy diet. That means eating a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, skinless poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and nuts and legumes (beans, peas and lentils).
6. Drop a few pounds
When your weight is in a healthy range, you’re less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and sleep apnea. Your body also circulates blood more efficiently. Your doctor can best advise you on what your healthy weight range is, as well as your ideal body mass index (BMI) — a screening tool to determine whether an adult is at a healthy weight.
If you need to lose a little weight, don’t be discouraged. Losing even a few pounds can provide you with cardiovascular benefits.
7. Stop smoking
People who smoke have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is quit.
8. Practice good dental hygiene
People who have gum disease often have the same risk factors for heart disease. Some studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream, causing an elevation in a certain protein that can indicate inflammation in the blood vessels. Those changes could increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Floss and brush your teeth daily and see your dentist regularly.
9. Get enough sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease regardless of your age or other health habits. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep most nights.
10. Don’t sit for too long at one time … even if you exercise regularly
New research is suggesting that staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health regardless of how much you exercise. If you have a sedentary desk job, look for opportunities to move. Take a few short walks throughout the day or consider using a standing work station so you can move up and down.
The new year is just underway — still plenty of time to make this your heart-healthiest year yet!
Researched for and published by Physicians Mutual ~ February, 2018.
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