Getting Heart Healthy One Simple Step at a Time
A few good choices can help you feel better and stay healthier!
Getting diagnosed with health problems such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol is a wake-up call that it’s time to make major lifestyle changes.
The good news is, a few simple changes can help you avoid such a diagnosis in the first place.
By focusing on the following key health factors and behaviors – you can keep your heart healthy, lower your risks of heart disease and stroke, and improve your quality of life.
Lose weight/maintain healthy weight.
Losing weight is the key to lowering heart disease and stroke risk. Losing weight requires a simple formula: reduce calories in and increase calories out. So if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight.
A healthy, balanced diet promotes health and lowers risks. The first step to eating right is figuring out what you’re actually eating. Read nutrition labels and limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Understanding portion size and what you need in a day is important for avoiding high-calorie foods and avoiding overeating “healthy” foods. Knowing the difference between a “serving” and “portion” can help you avoid portion distortion.
No matter what your weight, staying active can help keep your heart healthy. The first step to getting active is to consider how much exercise you’re getting. For adults, the recommendation is at least 150 minutes each week, or about 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Exercise can be anything that gets you moving and gets your heart rate up. Your target heart rate for exercise changes as you age and depending on your physical fitness level.
Manage blood pressure.
Blood pressure can rise as you age, so even if it's within the normal range now, it's important to keep track of any changes that may occur over time.
Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio.
Systolic: The top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).
Diastolic: The bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).
This blood pressure chart reflects categories defined by the American Heart Association.
Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. While BP can change from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic) for an adult age 20 or over. About one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure.
Even if your blood pressure is normal, you should consider making lifestyle modifications to prevent the development of HBP and improve your heart health.
Reduce blood sugar.
Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
The first step to reducing our blood sugar is to understand what makes our blood sugar levels rise.
- GLUCOSE – The food we eat is turned into glucose (sugar) in the stomach and enters the bloodstream.
- INSULIN – Produced in the pancreas, insulin’s role is to take sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cells.
- ENERGY – Insulin helps the body to be able to use glucose for energy.
In type 2 diabetes glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells because:
- The body develops “insulin resistance” and can’t make efficient use of the insulin it makes, or
- The pancreas loses its capacity to produce insulin.
Learn and Track Your Blood Glucose.
To learn our blood sugar level, we should have a Fasting Plasma Glucose Test performed by our healthcare provider.
The American Heart Association recommendation for healthy blood glucose is:
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Factors like high blood pressure can stretch out the arteries and cause scarring. Bad cholesterol, called LDL, often gets lodged in the scar tissue and combines with white blood cells to form clots. The good cholesterol, called HDL, helps remove LDL from the arteries.
Here are some other problems smoking causes:
- Smoking robs you of some of your good cholesterol.
- Smoking temporarily raises your blood pressure.
- Smoking increases the blood’s clotting likelihood.
- Smoking makes it more difficult to exercise.
Although cigarette smoking alone increases your risk of coronary heart disease, it greatly increases risk to your whole cardiovascular system. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.
Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood. Plaque can break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack. Making healthy eating choices and increasing exercise are important first steps in improving your cholesterol. For some people, cholesterol-lowering medication may also be needed to reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Educate Yourself with a Visit to Your Healthcare Provider
Taking action to keep your heart healthy is important because heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S.
But many Americans aren’t aware that they may be at risk.
An American Heart Association survey of U.S. adults showed most people don’t connect important risk factors, such as poor diet and physical inactivity, with heart disease and stroke.
The first step to doing that is getting a full picture of your health. Some measures, such as blood sugar and cholesterol, will require a trip to the doctor for a health screening. Others, such as blood pressure and weight, you may be able to measure at home or your local pharmacy.
Source: American Heart Association