February is heart disease awareness month. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for both men and women in the U.S., striking more than 1 and 4 Americans each year. And if that didn’t get your attention, cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly twice as many deaths in women as compared to all forms of cancer. That being said, it is never too early to start paying attention to your health and taking steps to protect your heart. Heart disease and strokes are very preventable, but only if you know your risks and how to lower them.
Get regular medical checkups. Talk to your doctor about your heart-health and what factors in your life can increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Dr. Peter Alagona, the program director of general cardiology at the Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute, says “Everyday changes to your lifestyle can make a big heart-healthy difference.”
Maintain a healthy weight. A study of nearly 30,000 mean found that overweight men (BMI 25 to 28.9) have a 72% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease over a three year period, compared with men of a normal weight. Obese men have a 244% increased risk. According to the American Heart Association, excess body fat, particularly around the waist area, is a higher risk of heart disease. You are also at a higher risk for developing other health problem which can contribute to heart disease, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes.
Reduce your stress. It seems everyone is busy all day long, working, talking, texting, driving the kids from here to there and the list goes on. Chronic stress is damaging to your health and can drive you to overeat, lose sleep, drink and smoke more, and neglect taking care of yourself. Find ways to lower your daily stress levels – eat a balanced diet, use exercise as a stress reliever, connect with friends and family who provide emotional support, and work on changing things in your life that are creating stress. Try and sit down in a quiet place for 10 minutes a day, take some deep breaths, or practice some modest relaxation exercises.
Stop smoking. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking increases your risk of illness and death from heart attack, stroke and other diseases. According to the American Heart Association, when you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke is substantially reduced.
Eat healthy. A healthy diet contains not only the proper foods but an appropriate caloric intake. Cutting calories from simple carbohydrates and substitute good fats (polyunsaturated) for bad fats (saturated), increasing natural fiber and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a good start. Track your food portions, and instead of eating large volume meals, eat smaller but more frequent meals and healthy snacks.
Get moving. A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, you can do something about it. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing, low-impact aerobics, and water aerobics, have many benefits. You can also mix up your cardio by doing 3 minutes of cardio, and then 1 strength training exercise or a high-intensity burst of cardio for 1 minute. Another option is to choose 5-10 strength training exercises and perform 1 set of each. Move quickly from one exercise to the next to keep your heart rate up. You should work your way up to vigorous exercise (that means huffing and puffing!) 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week.
You may be thinking, “this is a lot of info and too much to do all at once”. You are right! So set small goals and focus on making small lifestyle changes that will last a lifetime. And if you want any help, I would love to help you become a better you.