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February marks American Heart Month, highlighting the significance of addressing heart disease, a leading cause of mortality among both men and women in the United States. It’s vital to promote awareness of heart health and discuss preventive measures individuals can implement to minimize their risk of heart disease. Continue reading for tips on living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked

High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure continues to rise and stay high over time, it can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup. It is recommended adults have blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, it is suggested to have it checked more often.

High blood cholesterol is a condition in which your blood contains unhealthy levels of cholesterol, a waxy and fat-like substance. Many factors can affect your cholesterol levels, including age, eating habits, and physical activity levels. To determine if you have healthy cholesterol levels, a blood test is recommended. If you have unhealthy cholesterol levels, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle changes, such as more frequent exercise and healthier eating habits.

Choose Heart Healthy Foods

There are various foods you can implement into your diet that are good for your heart health. A rule of thumb to follow is selecting fruits and vegetables and limiting saturated fats and added sugars when possible. Cutting back on alcoholic beverages will also benefit your heart-health. Refer to the list of heart-healthy foods below:

  • Vegetables: leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes
  • Whole grains: plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt

Protein-rich foods:

  • Fish – high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, trout)
  • Lean meats – such as 95% lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, or skinless chicken or turkey
  • Eggs
  • Nuts, seeds, and soy products (tofu)
  • Legumes – such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans

Oils and foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:

  • Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils
  • Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts
  • Nut and seed butters
  • Salmon and trout
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax)
  • Avocados
  • Tofu

Get Regular Physical Activity

Image Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Regular physical activity can help you lose excess weight, improve physical fitness, lower heart disease and unhealthy cholesterol levels, manage blood pressure, lower stress, and improve your mental health.

Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, running, biking, and swimming benefit your heart and lungs the most.

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity
  • A combination of both moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity is ideal

Manage Stress

While stress often carries a negative connotation, it plays a crucial role in keeping us alert and motivated, instilling a sense of urgency in our lives. However, excessive stress can lead to detrimental effects on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Therefore, it’s important to discern whether your stress levels are within a healthy range or if they have escalated to a point of concern. The key to stress management is finding the right balance between productive stress and stress that makes you feel overwhelmed and unproductive.

Top signs your stress has gotten out of hand:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Feeling on edge and unable to stop worrying
  • Changes in appetite
  • Physical signs such as muscle tension and upset stomach
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Reliance on alcohol or other substances to cope
  • Changes in mood, irritability, or anger

Image Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

How can stress be managed so it isn’t impacting your everyday life? Relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga have shown to be highly impactful when it comes to reducing stress. In addition, daily exercise can have many benefits for your overall health and wellbeing, including reducing stress. Lastly, ensuring you have time to relax each day will also help prevent a build-up of tension in your body and your mind.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is critical for your health and wellbeing, and helps heal and repair your heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep can raise your risk for chronic health problems.

Quit smoking

Smoking can significantly raise your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.

American Heart Month serves as an important reminder to prioritize our cardiovascular health by maintaining overall well-being. By adhering to these guidelines, you can lower your risk of developing heart disease or other medical issues in the future. If you encounter heart-related issues or any health concerns, our committed team at Brooks-TLC Hospital is available to assist you. Contact us today or give us a call at 716-366-1111 for support.