February is all about hearts. Whether it’s defined by Cupid’s
bow, a box of chocolates, Valentine’s Day or simply the color red, the month is
the celebration of the heart.
The best gift you can give yourself during the month of
February is a healthy heart. Adopting a healthy lifestyle today can help you
keep a strong heart in the future.
First, take a look at sobering information from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death
in the United States for both men and women.
Americans die every year from heart disease. That is 30 percent of all deaths. The most
common type of heart disease in the U.S. is coronary heart disease, which can
lead to heart attacks.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Ninety-five percent of heart disease is either
preventable or treatable based on how we live,” said Dr. Sheila Khianey, a cardiologist at
Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William MedicalCenter.
Heart disease can be prevented through some lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and other controllable factors. In fact, 80
percent of deaths from coronary artery disease were caused by preventable
factors, according to the CDC. Show yourself some love by following these suggestions:
Monitor your blood pressure. Check your
blood pressure on a regular basis either at home, at a pharmacy or at a
doctor’s office. Ideal blood pressure
for an adult is a reading showing less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, or
120 over 80.
Get your cholesterol checked. The CDC
recommends having your health care team test your blood at least once every
Eat a healthy diet. Choosing to eat fresh fruit and vegetables can help combat heart disease as
these foods are low in saturated fat and high in fiber, which is good for
“Food is medicine,” Khianey said. “You need good nutrition
to be healthy, feel good and fight disease.”
The doctor recommends seven servings primarily of fruit and
vegetables and reducing sugar and simple carbs in your diet. “This will greatly
reduce the bad fats in your blood that lead to heart disease,” she said.
Reduce your sodium intake. Sodium can elevate your blood pressure. Aim for a
diet low in sodium which has 2 grams of sodium or less. Start by cutting back
on processed foods and eating at fast food restaurants.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease.
The federal government estimates that
one-third of adults, or 78 million Americans are obese. To determine whether your weight is in the
healthy range, calculate your body
Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your
cholesterol and blood pressure.
Plus, exercise reduces stress. “It
improves your sleep, focus, your mood and metabolism,” Khianey said. “It keeps the blood vessels
in our heart – and all over our body – healthy by making them flexible and stronger.”
Khianey recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day. “Think of
it as revving the engine of your body,” she said. “You know you are getting a
good workout when you get your heart rate up and break a sweat.”
Power walking is a great exercise, the doctor added.
Quit smoking. Smoking
a person’s risk for coronary heart disease by 2-4 times. “Smoking damages
your blood vessels from head to toe,” Khianey said. “By quitting, you can
restore the health of your blood vessels and prevent life-threatening medical
Get a good night’s sleep. Good sleep has many health benefits including better blood pressure
and cholesterol levels, according to the doctor. “With good sleep, your
metabolism is higher and you feel less hungry,” she said.
Limit alcohol use.
Drinking too heavily can raise blood pressure. One drink is equivalent to one,
12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Risk of heart disease varies from individual to
individual. Having a close relative with
heart disease puts you at higher risk.
Race and ethnicity can also impact your risk of disease. Nearly
44 percent of African American men and 48 percent of African American women have some type of
cardiovascular disease. While some factors are out of your control, take charge
of those changes you can make to improve your heart health.
Find additional health and wellness tips at NovantHealth.org/RemarkableYou.