February is American Heart Month
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. “When it comes to heart disease, prevention is the best medicine. Up to 80% of heart disease is preventable,” says Dr. Amir Lotfi, medical director of the inpatient cardiovascular services at Baystate Medical Center. “Following a few steps can help decrease your risk of heart disease,” he added.
February is American Heart Month, and the perfect time to work closely with your physician to modify your risk factors through lifestyle changes, or medications if needed. Dr. Lotfi says you can lower your risk by following seven healthy lifestyle practices. Those practices include:
- No smoking – Smoking is detrimental to your cardiovascular health, but also your overall health. Therefore, smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries and blood clots. Blood clots and hardened arteries increase your risks for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Smoking can also reduce your good cholesterol (HDL) and your lung capacity, making it harder to get the physical activity you need for better health.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Excess fat, especially around your waistline, can put you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction.
- Exercise – Daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. Try and get at least 30 minutes a day or 2.5 hours per week of physical activity. Working out doesn’t mean joining a gym. Rather, it simply means fitting in some type of physical activity, no matter what you are doing. It can be mild or moderate, depending on your fitness level. Any exercise will work, a stationary bike, walking, or jogging, as long it’s something that increases your heart rate. Exercising five times per week, will lower your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, it will also help you live a happier healthier life.
- Cholesterol – Cholesterol actually isn’t a bad thing. However, it can become a problem when it’s out of balance. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that our bodies use to make cell membranes and some hormones. However, too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can form plaque in your veins and arteries. It then forms blockages that can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. There is no such thing as a normal cholesterol level. Instead, you should consider what the healthiest cholesterol level based off of your risk factors. Someone who is 30-years-old and has no risk factor is completely different than someone who is 60 years old and has high blood pressure and diabetes.
The good news is that it’s something you can control. A healthy diet can help you manage your cholesterol levels. Eating foods like whole- and multi-grain products, fatty fishes, such as salmon, and foods rich in in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables can help you lower your cholesterol. If all else fails, it is time to talk to your primary care physician about other option that are available to you. Medications are another method used to help bring your cholesterol levels. Statins are a cholesterol lowering drug that can reduce your risk heart disease.
- Control Blood sugar- Most diabetics know the importance of controlling you sugar levels. However, diabetics aren’t the only ones who should watch their sugar intake. Too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease; contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Studies show that the odds of dying from heart disease increase in tandem with the percentage of sugar in one’s diet, regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index. Reduce your intake of simple sugars that are found in soda, candy and sugary desserts. Get regular physical activity and if you’re diabetic be sure to take your prescribed medications or insulin.
- Blood Pressure – Blood pressure is known as the silent killer. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It’s important to have an idea of what your blood pressure is. A blood pressure that stays within healthy range reduces the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. If your pressure is constantly elevated, usually above 140, it’s considered high blood pressure or hypertension. Hypertension over the span of time can affect your heart, brain and kidneys. If your have high blood pressure you should see your primary care physician to be sure that there are no other causes that can be reversed. If it can’t be reversed, then the next step is medication and to follow up with your doctor.
- A healthy diet – A healthy diet is key to living a heart healthy life style. However, the decision to live a healthy lifestyle should not be done as a diet or fad- it should be something that you live every day. Skip out on high sugar drinks, fatty and processed foods that are high in cholesterol. Stick to veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats including fish. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals; they also contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease.
To learn more about Baystate Medical Center’s life-saving cardiac capabilities, visit http://www.baystatehealth.org/services/heart-vascular