While most people thinking about hearts right now are considering Valentine’s Day, they may not realize that February is actually American Heart Month. As a heart disease survivor, I learned about heart health the hard way by losing it and having to make up for lost time to get it back in shape (a process that I’m still working on). Taking care of your heart is just like saving money: it’s much easier to do a little bit regularly when you’re young, than to have to do a lot when you’re older to catch up. And taking care of your heart health will save you money, protecting you against costly doctor and hospital visits, expensive maintenance medications, and potential loss of income. Not to mention, it could save your life!
Ways to Maintain Heart Health
Here are some important ways to make sure your ticker keeps on ticking like it should for a long time to come:
A diet low in salt, added sugars, and trans or saturated fats, and high in fresh vegetables and fruits will help you maintain a healthy blood pressure and take care of your heart. Did you know the average American consumes about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, while the recommended intake is less than 2,300 mg per day? And it’s usually not the salt shaker on your kitchen table that’s the culprit, but rather all the processed foods we eat out of convenience. It’s not easy to change your lifestyle, but it can be done.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 days per week for overall cardiovascular health. If you’re not up to that level of activity, just get started doing something (which is always better than nothing). You don’t need a gym, just take a walk outside or check out a free fitness video to do at home.
Most everyone knows that smoking is bad for your lungs, but it also raises your risk for heart disease. If you smoke, quit. There are lots of programs out there to help you. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Get Enough Sleep
Inadequate levels of sleep have been correlated with an increased risk for heart disease and for those with sleep apnea, the relationship is even stronger. Make sure you’re getting more than six hours of sleep per night (preferably closer to eight hours). And if you’re a loud snorer who doesn’t get a restful night’s sleep, get evaluated for sleep apnea by a doctor.
Check Your Blood Pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and strokes, but often has no symptoms. Have your blood pressure checked by your doctor, check it at a local pharmacy or even at home with a home blood pressure monitor. If it’s high, talk to your doctor about whether you need medication, and take it as directed.
Check Your Cholesterol
While you need a blood test to check cholesterol levels, a quick stick of the needle is worth learning about your risk factors for forming blockages that lead to heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol numbers can be confusing, but your doctor will be able to tell you how you’re doing. Out of control cholesterol can be tamed by reducing sugars and saturated fats from your diet, or through medication if needed.
We may not be able to eradicate heart disease, but we can go a long way in preventing it and treating it by taking our heart health seriously. Don’t wait like I did…stop it before it starts. For more information and resources, check out the Million Hearts initiative and the American Heart Association.
What are you going to do for your heart health this month?