National Heart Month
#heartmonth is here!
February is National Heart Month – celebrate by loving your heart! Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in women and men in the United States, and while some risk factors are hereditary, there is much that can be done to lower your risk.
You’re never too young — or too old — to care for your heart. Preventing heart disease (and all cardiovascular diseases) means making smart choices now that will pay dividends later. Lack of exercise, a poor diet, and other unhealthy habits can take their toll over the years. Anyone at any age can benefit from simple steps to keep their heart healthy during each decade of life.
What is Heart Disease?
Per the Mayo Clinic, heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects with which you’re born (congenital heart defects), among others.
The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
Conditions Affecting the Heart
Arrythmia | Athersclerosis | Cardiac Arrest | Cardiomyopathy | Childhood Heart Problems | Congenital Heart Defects | Coronary Artery Disease | Deep Vein Thrombosis | Diabetes | Heart Attack | Heart Failure | Heart Valve Disease | High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) | Pericarditis | Peripheral Artery Disease
When should you go to the ER?
For many people, knowing when to seek emergency care isn’t always clear. Most people know to call 911 right away when faced with a life-threatening situation, such as loss of consciousness, breathing trouble, or serious trauma. But heart attack symptoms aren’t always as clear-cut. It may be hard to tell if the symptoms are a result of a heart crisis or heartburn, for example.
Surprisingly, symptoms of heart disease can also differ between men and women. Women are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain. Although the most common symptom is chest pain women may also experience shortness of breath, right arm pain, nausea or vomiting, sweating, lightheadedness, unusual fatigue, and neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort.
Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you feel it is an emergency, call 911 and ask them to send an ambulance right away.
The below heart attack symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the closest emergency room:
- Chest discomfort that feels like pressure, fullness, or a squeezing pain in the center or left side of your chest. It lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain and discomfort that extends beyond your chest to other parts of your upper body, such as one or both arms, back, neck, stomach, and jaw.
- Unexplained shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Any of the symptoms listed above that are accompanied by a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, anxiety, or indigestion.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are some general risk factors for heart disease that apply unilaterally, such as gender, family history, age (40+), smoking history, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, high stress levels, and ethnicity, with African Americans, American Indians, and American Mexicans being more statistically more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians.
Manage Your Risk for Heart Disease
Getting smart about your heart early on puts you far ahead of the curve. The things you do — and don’t — are a tell-tale sign of how long and how well you’re going to live, said Richard Stein, M.D. “There’s no one I know who said: ‘I felt better being sedentary. I felt better eating a terrible diet,’” said Stein, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “All these things actually make you feel better while they help you.”
- Find a doctor and have regular wellness exams. Healthy people need doctors, too. Establishing a relationship with a physician means you can start heart-health screenings now. Talk to your doctor about your diet, lifestyle and checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood sugar and body mass index. You may also need your blood sugar checked if you are pregnant, overweight or have diabetes. Knowing where your numbers stand early makes it easier to spot a possible change in the future.
- Be physically active. It’s a lot easier to be active and stay active if you start at a young age. “If you’re accustomed to physical activity, you’ll sustain it,” Dr. Stein said. Keep your workout routine interesting by mixing it up and finding new motivators.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. If you picked up smoking as a teen, it’s time to quit smoking. Even exposure to secondhand smoke poses a serious health hazard. Nonsmokers are up to 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure at home or work, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report.
Juggling family and career leaves many adults with little time to worry about their hearts. Here are some ways to balance all three.
- Make heart-healthy living a family affair. Create and sustain heart-healthy habits in your kids and you’ll reap the benefits, too. Spend less time on the couch and more time on the move. Explore a nearby park on foot or bike. Shoot some hoops or walk the dog. Plant a vegetable and fruit garden together in the yard, and invite your kids into the kitchen to help cook.
- Know your family history. Shake down your family tree to learn about heart health. Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk, and more so if the relative is a parent or sibling. You need to focus on controllable risk factors by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking, and eating right. Also, keep your doctor informed about any heart problems you learn about in your family.
- Tame your stress. Long-term stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls. Learning stress management techniques not only benefits your body, but also your quality of life. Try deep breathing exercises and find time each day to do something you enjoy. Giving back through volunteering also does wonders for knocking out stress.
If heart health hasn’t been a priority, don’t worry. Healthy choices you make now can strengthen your heart for the long haul. Understand why you need to make a lifestyle change and have the confidence to make it. Then, tackle them one at a time. “Each success makes you more confident to take on the next one,” said Stein, an American Heart Association volunteer.
- Watch your weight. You may notice your metabolism slowing down in your 40s. But you can avoid weight gain by following a heart-healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. The trick is to find a workout routine you enjoy. If you need motivation to get moving, find a workout buddy.
- Have your blood sugar level checked. In addition to blood pressure checks and other heart-health screenings, you should have a fasting blood glucose test by the time you’re 45. This first test serves as a baseline for future tests, which you should have every three years. Testing may be done earlier or more often if you are overweight, diabetic or at risk for becoming diabetic.
- Don’t brush off snoring. Listen to your sleeping partner’s complaints about your snoring. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea, a condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep. If not properly treated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Unlike the emergence of wrinkles and gray hair, what you can’t see as you get older is the impact aging has on your heart. So starting in the 50s, you need to take extra steps.
- Eat a healthy diet. It’s easy to slip into some unhealthy eating habits, so refresh your eating habits by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Now is the time to get savvy about symptoms. Not everyone experiences sudden numbness with a stroke or severe chest pain with a heart attack, and heart attack symptoms in women can be different than men.
- Follow your treatment plan. By now, you may have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other conditions that increase your risk for heart disease or stroke.
With age comes an increased risk for heart disease. Your blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart-related numbers tend to rise. Watching your numbers closely and managing any health problems that arise — along with the requisite healthy eating and exercise — can help you live longer and better.
- Have an ankle-brachial index test. Starting in your 60s, it’s a good idea to get an ankle-brachial index test as part of a physical exam. The test assesses the pulses in the feet to help diagnose peripheral artery disease (PAD), a lesser-known cardiovascular disease in which plaque builds up in the leg arteries.
- Watch your weight. Your body needs fewer calories as you get older. Excess weight causes your heart to work harder and increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Exercising regularly and eating smaller portions of nutrient-rich foods may help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Heart attack symptoms in women can be different than men. Knowing when you’re having a heart attack or stroke means you’re more likely to get immediate help. Quick treatment can save your life and prevent serious disability.
Nutrition Matters! Make Healthy Food Choices
For someone with heart disease, diet is a big deal. Along with other healthy habits, proper diet management can slow, or even partially reverse, the narrowing of the heart’s arteries and help prevent further complications. The best food strategy is to focus on what you can eat, not just what is off-limits. Research shows that adding heart-saving foods is just as important as curbing less healthy options.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats.
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It must be transported through your bloodstream by carriers called lipoproteins, which got their name because they’re made of fat (lipid) and proteins. The two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells are low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL (“good” cholesterol). LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, along with one fifth of your triglyceride level, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.
A good way to visualize and remember the difference between LDL and HDL is to visualize a marshmallow (LDL) and a marble (HDL) moving through your veins. The marshmallow would move slowly and get stuck frequently, also likely leaving bits of itself behind on the vein wall. The marble would move quickly and efficiently, leaving little to no trace of its path.
Adopting a diet that curbs low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol,” can help lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and assist with weight loss.
Follow these nine strategies to plan heart-healthy meals for the whole family:
- Serve more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Just about everyone could stand to eat more plant-based foods. They’re rich in fiber and other nutrients, and they can taste great in a salad, as a side dish, or as an entree. Watch that you don’t use too much fat or cheese when you prepare them. Michael Pollan’s “food rules” can best be summarized to say 1) eat food, 2) mostly plants, and 3) not too much.
- Choose fat calories wisely. Limit saturated fats (found in animal products), avoid artificial trans fats (specifically check ingredient lists for “partially hydrogenated” oils), and when using added fats for cooking or baking, choose oils that are high in monounsaturated fat (for example, olive and peanut oil) or polyunsaturated fat (such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils).
- Serve a variety of protein-rich foods. Balance meals with lean meat, fish, and vegetable sources of protein.
- Limit cholesterol in foods. LDL found in red meat and high-fat dairy products can significantly raise blood cholesterol levels, especially for those in high-risk categories.
- Serve the right kind of carbs. Include foods like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and sweet potatoes to add fiber and help control blood sugar levels. Avoid sugary foods and drinks.
- Eating on a regular schedule can help control blood sugar, burn fat more efficiently, and regulate cholesterol levels.
- Cut back on salt. Too much salt is bad for blood pressure. Instead, use herbs, spices, or condiments to flavor foods.
- Encourage hydration. Staying hydrated makes you feel energetic and eat less. Drink 32 to 64 ounces (about 1 to 2 liters) of water daily, unless otherwise advised by a doctor.
- Manage portion sizes. It can help to use smaller plates and glasses, and to check food labels to better understand true serving sizes, since overeating is quite easy. Some helpful visual cues include: one ounce of cheese is the size of a pair of dice, a serving of meat or tofu is roughly the size of a standard deck of cards, and two servings of rice or pasta are the size of a tennis ball.
- Chipotle Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes | Savory sweet potatoes can be a comfort food on a chilly evening. Stuff with sweet and spicy pulled chicken with corn or beans and lime!
- Spaghetti-Squash Spaghetti | This creative Italian recipe has an interesting vegetable that the kids will think is fun to make and eat.
- Tailgate Chili | Try this classic chili recipe that’s good for your heart. It’s ready in 30 minutes – just in time for kickoff or tipoff!
- Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salad | This recipe is a colorful, festive, and flavorful vegetarian dish that’s easy to make!
- Chicken and Quinoa Soup | Quick-cooking quinoa compliments this chicken and vegetable soup adding texture and some whole grains.
- Grilled Turkey Cutlets with Honey Mustard Sauce | Turkey cutlets are great in a hurry because they require very little trimming and cook quickly. Whether pan “fried” or grilled, they take only a couple of minutes per side.
Get Active for Your Heart!
Take the first step and start with walking, which is easy and free. Walking for as few as 30 minutes per day is effective and has proven heart health benefits. Although a great start, walking isn’t your only option. Try these tips for increasing physical activity, and you may be surprised at how many opportunities you encounter daily.
Many of us have sedentary jobs, and work takes up a significant part of our day. What can you do to increase your physical activity during the work day?
- Brainstorm project ideas with a coworker while taking a walk.
- Create an exercise accountability partnership.
- Walk during business calls when you don’t need to reference important documents.
- Stand while talking on the telephone.
- Walk down the hall to speak with someone rather than using the telephone.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or get off a few floors early and take the stairs the rest of the way.
- Walk while waiting for the plane at the airport.
- Stay at hotels with fitness centers or swimming pools and use them while on business trips.
- Take along a jump rope or a resistance band in your suitcase when you travel. Jump and do calisthenics in your hotel room.
- Participate in or start a recreation league at your company.
- Form a sports team to raise money for charity events.
- Join a fitness center or YMCA near your job. Work out before or after work to avoid rush-hour traffic, or drop by for a noon workout.
- Schedule exercise time on your business calendar and treat it as any other important appointment.
- Get off the bus a few blocks early and walk the rest of the way to work or home.
- Walk around your building for a break during the work day or during lunch.
- Some have mastered the art of typing while on a treadmill by securing the laptop to the base. Be creative!
- Get a stand-up desk.
It’s usually convenient, comfortable and safe to work out at home. It allows your children to see you being active, which sets a good example for them. You can combine exercise with other activities, such as watching TV. If you buy exercise equipment, it’s a one-time expense and other family members can use it. It’s easy to have short bouts of activity several times a day.
- Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it.
- Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn’t count! Rake leaves, prune, dig and pick up trash.
- Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner or both! Start with 5-10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes.
- Walk or bike to the corner store instead of driving.
- When walking, pick up the pace from leisurely to brisk. Choose a hilly route. When watching TV, sit up instead of lying on the sofa. Or stretch. Better yet, spend a few minutes pedaling on your stationary bicycle while watching TV. Throw away your video remote control. Instead of asking someone to bring you a drink, get up off the couch and get it yourself.
- Stand up while talking on the telephone.
- Walk the dog.
- Park farther away at the shopping mall and walk the extra distance. Wear your walking shoes and sneak in an extra lap or two around the mall.
- Stretch to reach items in high places and squat or bend to look at items at floor level.
- Keep exercise equipment repaired and use it!
Play and recreation are important for good health. Look for opportunities such as these to be active and have fun at the same time.
- Plan family outings and vacations that include physical activity (hiking, backpacking, swimming, etc.).
- See the sights in new cities by walking, jogging, or bicycling.
- Make a date with a friend to enjoy your favorite physical activities. Do them regularly.
- Play your favorite music while exercising; enjoy something that motivates you.
- Dance with someone or by yourself. Take dancing lessons. Hit the dance floor on fast numbers instead of slow ones.
- Join a recreational club that emphasizes physical activity.
- At the beach, sit and watch the waves instead of lying flat. Better yet, get up and walk, run, or fly a kite.
- When golfing, walk instead of using a cart.
- Play singles tennis or racquetball instead of doubles.
- At a picnic, join in on badminton instead of croquet.
- At the lake, rent a rowboat instead of a canoe.
LewisGale’s American Heart Month content provided in partnership with the American Heart Association.
What are you doing to ensure your heart’s health?
(if you are concerned about your health coverage, as it relates to your heart’s health, please call us at 877.789.5831 and we’ll be happy to help!)