Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? Statistics show more than 2,400 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day; that’s an average of one death every 37 seconds.The good news is
that there are simple steps we can all take to protect our hearts.
Certain factors such as age and heredity cannot be controlled, but understanding the factors you can control can help you make positive changes.
Some factors you can control include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Obesity and extra weight
Blood pressure is the measure of the force created when the heart pumps blood into your blood vessels, which carries the blood to your organs and tissues.
Blood pressure varies greatly depending on many factors. For example it is higher during physical exertion and lower during sleep.
High blood pressure (hypertension) results when the heart is working harder than normal. This can happen when blood vessels are restricted or tightened. Think of it as water flowing through a hose – the narrower the hose, the more force will be required for water (your blood) to pass through. The extra stress this causes on the heart can lead to serious health problems, and if left untreated can result in damage to the kidneys, brain, and eyes, as well as to the heart.
Blood pressure is measured as systolic pressure/diastolic pressure.
- Systolic pressure is the pressure when your heart is pumping
- Diastolic pressure is the pressure when your heart is filling with blood
Normal blood pressure is 120/80.
Pre-hypertension is when the numbers fall between 120-139/80-89.
If any of your numbers consistently fall above 140/90 then you may have high blood pressure. Speak to your healthcare provider about what numbers are right for you.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and other cells and found in certain foods, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol to function properly, but only a limited amount. Too much cholesterol consumption
can lead to a buildup in the blood vessels, which can result in
hypertension (high blood pressure).
The different types of cholesterol include:
- LDL cholesterol: low density lipoprotein, often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, this is the kind that can stick to your arteries and cause heart disease. The lower the number of these the better.
- HDL cholesterol: high density lipoprotein, sometimes called ‘good’ cholesterol, this kind of cholesterol will actually protect your heart. Having a high amount of HDL containing foods may provide health benefits.
- Triglycerides: fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. Excess calories, sugars, and fats we consume are converted by our bodies into triglycerides, which are then stored in cells. Too much triglyceride has also been linked to heart disease.
- Total cholesterol: the overall picture, measured from your LDL, HDL, and other factors.
Experts recommend that men aged 35 and older and women age 45 and older be routinely screened for lipid disorders. You should ask your doctor about having a cholesterol blood check to see how your numbers stand.
Below is a list of references for normal cholesterol levels:
|Less than 100
|100 - 129
||Near optimal/above optimal
|130 - 159
|160 - 189
|190 and above
|Less than 150
|150 - 199
|200 - 499
|500 or higher
|60 and above
||High; Optimal; helps to lower risk of heart disease
|Less than 40 in men and less than 50 in women
||Low; considered a risk factor for heart disease
|Less than 200
|200 - 239
|240 and above
Maintain a healthy weight. A low-fat diet, combined with exercise can help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Lowering your cholesterol means healthier arteries and a healthier heart. Remember to test your cholesterol regularly.
Eat a diet rich in fruits and veggies. Manage stress and avoid tobacco to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts strain on your heart as it does its work. Unfortunately there are no obvious signs of high blood pressure, so remember to check often.
If you are already a smoker ask your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement, counseling and other methods to help you drop the habit. Smokers are at doubled risk of heart-related diseases. The good news is individuals who manage to kick the habit can eventually lower their heart health risks to the levels of non-smokers.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. If you aren’t already regularly exercising it’s OK to start slow. Even 10 minutes at a time can offer benefits. Exercise improves oxygen flow to the heart and makes it stronger over time.
Choose a diet low in sugars and fat. Added with regular exercise, a healthy diet can help maintain a healthy weight, and healthy heart.
Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of developing heart disease, even if glucose levels are maintained. But the risks are greater if it is not well controlled. If you have diabetes be sure to get regular checkups with your doctor to manage the condition.
Taking these simple steps and being health-conscious is a great way to maintain a healthy heart.
Many of the signs of heart problems are insidious – they don’t show up until a problem actually occurs. Be aware of certain signs that may mean you need immediate treatment.
A heart attack occurs when the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart get blocked. This leads to the heart not getting enough oxygen, which can result in the heart getting damaged, or dying completely.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. These are usually obvious to everyone around. Most however, are not. They start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people experiencing these symptoms aren’t sure what’s happening and wait too long to seek help. Some of the signs that the discomfort could possibly be a heart attack include:
- Pressure, squeezing, and pain in the center of the chest that lasts for a few minutes and goes away and comes back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness
Remember, men and women commonly feel pain in the chest. But women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain. If you or anyone you’re with experiences any of the above symptoms do not wait longer than a few minutes to call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.
Stroke warning signs
Unlike a heart attack, a stroke is when the supply of oxygen to the brain gets interrupted.
Warning signs can include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, leg, or especially one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing from one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you or someone you know have any of these signs please do not delay! Call 911 immediately.
Children and teens can start early by getting at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.
Men and women in their 20’s should start keeping an eye on their blood pressure and should be aware of their family history to know their risks.
Once in their 30’s many people will benefit from managing the stresses in their life, and knowing that it’s important to take care of themselves no matter how busy life gets.
In your 40’s consider getting routine blood glucose checkups. Manage your busy schedule by squeezing in exercise with little changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
For those 50 and over remember to age actively! Ask your doctor about aspirin therapy and try to reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
Don’t worry about the past, and remember it’s never too late to make some change and adopt healthy habits!
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