Valentine’s Day is all about the heart – so it’s a perfect time to assess your heart health. February is also national heart awareness month. Some adjustments in your lifestyle can go a long way in reducing your risk of developing heart disease, according to cardiologists at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.
The American Heart Association has defined ideal cardiovascular health based on seven risk factors (Life’s Simple 7) that people can improve through lifestyle changes. They are:
1. Blood Pressure
3. Blood Sugar/Glucose
4. Physical Activity
7. Smoking Status
1. 1. Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is when your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. Recommended blood pressure: 120/80 mm Hg
2. 2. Control Cholesterol
High Cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It’s not inherently “bad.” In fact, your body needs it to build cells. But too much cholesterol can pose a problem. Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The remainder of the cholesterol in your body comes from foods derived from animals. For example, meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products all contain cholesterol, called dietary cholesterol.
HDL = GOOD: High-density lipoprotein is known as “good” cholesterol.
LDL = BAD: Low-density lipoprotein is known as “bad” cholesterol.
HDL helps keep LDL from sticking to artery walls and reduces plaque buildup. This process can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
3. 3. 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. Diabetes is a condition that causes blood sugar to rise. A fasting blood glucose (sugar) level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher is dangerous. A fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL is recommended.
The first step to managing your blood sugar is to understand what makes blood sugar levels rise. Glucose: The carbohydrates and sugars in what you eat and drink turn into glucose (sugar) in the stomach and digestive system. Glucose can then enter the bloodstream. Insulin: Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps the body’s cells take up glucose from the blood and lower blood sugar levels. In type 2 diabetes glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells because: The body develops “insulin resistance” and can’t use the insulin it makes efficiently. The pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin. The result can be a high blood glucose level.
4. Get Active
Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. Adults should get a weekly total of at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 0R 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. Kids and teens should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
> Be Strong: Include muscle-strengthening activity (like resistance or weight training) at least twice a week
> Add Intensity: Increase time, distance, amount or effort for more benefits
> Sit Less: Get up and move throughout the day
4. 5. Eat Better
A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting heart disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances of feeling good and staying healthy – for life! Make smart choices and swaps to build an overall healthy eating style. Watch calories and eat smaller portions.
- ENJOY: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins, skinless poultry, fish
- LIMIT: sweetened drinks, sodium, processed meats, refined carbohydrates like added sugars and processed grain foods, full-fat dairy products, eggs, highly processed foods, tropical oils like coconut and palm
- AVOID: trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils (found in some commercial baked goods and fried foods)
Read Nutrition Labels:
Learning how to read and understand food labels can help you make healthier choices. When you have more than one choice, compare nutrition facts. Choose products with lower amounts of sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.
Tips for Success:
Watch Calories: Eat only as many calories as you use up through physical activity. Understand serving sizes and keep portions reasonable.
Cook at Home: Take control over the nutritional content of your food by learning healthy preparation methods.
Look for the Heart-Check: The Heart-Check mark helps you find foods that can be part of a healthy eating plan.
Learn the Salty Six: Limit the amount of sodium you eat each day. Learn the Salty Six. These common foods can be loaded with excess sodium: Breads & rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts/cured meats, soups, and burritos/tacos.
5. 6. Lose Weight
When you maintain proper weight, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too.
How to Manage Weight:
– Keep Track: Understanding how many calories you take in and your activity level can help you identify changes you want to make. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat.
– Reduce Calories In: Keeping track of what and how much you’re eating can help you know whether you’re eating out of habit, stress or boredom instead of real hunger.
Increase Calories Out: An activity tracker can help you track how much physical activity you get.
– Learn Your BMI: Body Mass Index (BMI) is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. It can help you know whether you’re at a healthy weight. BMI less than 25k/m2 is recommended.
Tips for Success:
Control Portions: Learn about portion sizes and how much you might really be eating.
Get Active: Sit less, move more and add intensity to burn more calories and improve your overall health.
Eat Smart: Follow a healthy eating pattern that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish. Limit sweetened drinks, processed meats, refined carbohydrates like added sugars and processed grain foods, full-fat dairy products, eggs, highly processed foods, tropical oils like coconut and palm, and sodium. Make smart substitutions when cooking, snacking, and dining out.
Get Help: If you aren’t able to lose weight successfully on your own, talk with your health care provider.
7. Stop Smoking
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. The first step to quitting smoking, vaping and using tobacco is to understand the risks and health effects for you and your family:
– Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. It’s linked to about one third of all deaths from heart disease and 90% of lung cancers.
– Cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products contain many toxic chemicals, as do their smoke, vapor and liquids.
– About half of U.S. children ages 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke and vapor.
– Tobacco use and nicotine addiction is a growing crisis for teens and young adults.\You can be one of the millions of people who successfully quit every year.
– Within 1 year after quitting, your risk of heart disease goes down by half.
Make a Plan to Quit
You’re more likely to quit tobacco for good if you prepare by creating a plan that fits your lifestyle.
– Set a quit date within the next 7 days.
– Choose a method: cold turkey or gradually.
– Decide if you need help from a health care provider, nicotine replacement or medicine.
– Prepare for your quit day by planning how to deal with cravings and urges.
– Quit on your quit day.
These measures have one unique thing in common, said Dr. Anderson. “Any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference. Start with one or two. This simple, seven step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have – to live a long, productive healthy life.”
Here’s one doctor’s experience:
Dr. Brent Muhlestein is a heart doctor who had a big heart problem.
‘since I was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, I could no longer be fat and happy. I have to be thin and hungry. So in order to do that, I swore off elevators.’
The Intermountain cardiologist, uses the stairs exclusively bouncing from patients to screening labs.
But it wasn’t always that way. Being a cardiologist wasn’t enough to change his ways of being overweight and eating whenever and what ever he wanted.
‘I knew what I should do, but I didn’t want to do it. Life was busy, then I was diagnosed with diabetes and because I know all the implications of diabetes, I knew I had to change something.’
That meant starting to document his weight and exercise. Two years later he is free of type 2 diabetes.
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