6 Easy Tips for A Healthy Heart in February and All Year Long

Diego Ponieman, M.D., M.P.H.

By: Diego Ponieman, M.D., M.P.H.

Did you know that in the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? In fact, about 800,000 people pass away each year due to causes related to heart disease, accounting for one in four deaths according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control. As a physician, I see patients every day who are at risk for heart disease, and they don’t even know it. For example, proportionately, heart disease is more deadly for women. Each year, nearly one in three female deaths can be attributed to heart disease. Comparatively, 1 in 31 women die from breast cancer, but only about half of women recognize that heart disease is their top health risk. [1]

Part of the reason why so many people are in the dark is because heart disease is a broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. When it comes to heart health, we are most concerned with coronary artery disease (CAD), sometimes referred to as cardiovascular disease.  In CAD,  fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood build up in the coronary arteries, affecting how oxygen reaches the heart. Major risk factors leading to coronary artery disease include high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, inactivity and high blood pressure.  All of these risk factors are very common in the New York City communities I serve.  As a result, cardiovascular disease exacts a disproportionate toll on African Americans and Latinos.

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February is heart health month, and now is the perfect time to implement simple measures that could keep you healthy throughout the year and reduce your risks for heart disease:


Exercise regularly
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In addition to relieving stress, anxiety, depression and anger, exercise lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and can help lower blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight and improve circulation. Try exercising or walking for a total of at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Eat smart. Small changes like reducing the amount of added sugar and salt, and diversifying the amount of colors on your plate as outlined in the DASH nutrition plan.

Get enough sleep. We’re all guilty of not getting quite enough sleep, but a healthy amount of sleep (at least 7 hours each night) impacts your eating habits, mood, memory, and function of your internal organs.

Quit Smoking. Smoking increases your risk of coronary heart disease by increasing the tendency for blood to clot as well as decreasing good cholesterol. An added negative? Smoking also lowers your tolerance for exercise.

Drink less alcohol and more water. Studies from Loma Linda University found that participants who drank at least five glasses of water a day were less likely to have a fatal heart attack. If you drink alcohol, men should not have more than two drinks per day, and women should not have more than one

Talk to your doctor. While the key to preventing cardiovascular disease involves managing risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, regular check-ups will flag any risk factors at the earliest stage and allow you to work with your doctor to make the appropriate lifestyle changes. If you are managing high blood pressure, take your medication as instructed and ask your doctor about a personalized treatment plan – a key component of the Million Hearts Campaign® that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes.

 

[1] American Heart Association, https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/facts_about_heart_disease_in_women-sub-category/causes-prevention/