According to the American Heart Association, four out of every 10 Americans think that they have the ideal cardiovascular health. Are you one of them? By understanding the risk factors associated with heart disease and taking an honest look at your lifestyle choices, you can gain a more realistic picture of just what your cardiovascular health truly is. More importantly, if need be, you can take steps to get back on track!
- Manage your blood pressure.
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is considered the "silent killer" because it has no symptoms, unless significant damage has already been done. It's also the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. According to the AHA, one out of every three adults has high blood pressure, but about 20 percent of them do not know they have it. Only about half of those who know they have high blood pressure have it under control.
What can you do about this? Know your numbers. Have your blood pressure checked. If it's high, discuss lifestyle changes with your provider and take medication as prescribed if necessary. (Be sure to discuss any side effects with your provider-don't just stop taking your medication!) Eat a healthy, balanced diet (easy on the salt/ sodium) and exercise for 30 minutes each day.
- Get active.
A recent survey by the AHA shows that less than two out of every 10 people get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise every week. People who exercise have better health than those who do not. What can you do? After checking with your provider, start an exercise program that raises your heart rate for 30 minutes a day. Don't have 30 minutes? Try breaking that into two 15 minute sessions or even three 10 minute sessions!
So, what if you don't like to exercise but you like to read? How about an audio book while you walk? Many libraries have a wide variety of audio e-books available. If you are more social, how about getting together with friends for a walk, or joining an exercise class together?
- Control your blood sugar.
Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. For those with diabetes, controlling blood sugar is key in reducing cardiovascular risk. The carbohydrates we eat are turned into glucose (a type of sugar) to help maintain energy. Simple carbohydrates, like white bread and sweets, elevate our blood sugar faster than other healthier foods. This causes the body to produce extra insulin to manage energy levels, but also encourages the growth of plaques in our arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
What can you do? Discuss your risk factors for diabetes with your provider and ask about a blood sugar test. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, work with your provider to manage it. A healthy diet, portion control and physical activity are key in controlling blood sugar.
- Control cholesterol, eat better and lose weight.
Everyone has cholesterol, which is a waxy substance in the bloodstream and cells. Some cholesterol is important for good health, but too much can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Bad cholesterol, or LDL, slowly builds up along your artery walls. Over time, they combine with other materials in your bloodstream and form plaques, or thick substances that narrow the arteries making it harder for the blood to flow smoothly.
How can you control cholesterol? About 25 percent of cholesterol comes from the food we eat, so making healthier food choices is important. Fish, lean meats, beans, whole grains, low fat dairy products, fruits, and veggies are all great choices you can incorporate into your diet. Start the tradition of "Meatless Mondays," or try making a large dinner salad once a week with homemade salad dressing, substituting half of the oil with no sugar added fruit juice, lemon or lime juice, or rice vinegar which has a sweet taste.
Eating better will in turn, help you lose weight. According to the AHA, a body mass index of less than 25 is what you need for optimal cardiovascular health. BMI is a height to weight comparison that identifies your ideal body weight. You may be able to have your BMI tested at your doctor's office, or at health screenings like those offered by HealthLink. You should also know how many calories you need to eat each day, and be sure to get enough activity.
- Don't smoke.
Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease and is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Even if you have been smoking all of your life, your body will begin to repair itself the moment you stop smoking.
Talk with your doctor about ways to quit. Try calling the Smokers' Quitline at 1-866-697-8487 (nysmokefree.org) for advice, tips, and a free starter kit including a set of patches. You can also join the Smokefree Support Group that meets at Nathan Littauer Hospital or call HealthLink to speak with a cessation coach.
After reading about the seven simple steps to a healthier heart, you probably recognize a recurring theme. Make better choices when it comes to food and get 30 minutes of exercise each day. Focusing on those two areas alone will help you take great strides towards improving your heart and overall health in 2014 and beyond!
For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120, send an e-mail to email@example.com, visit its website at www.nlh.org, or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.