This February marks the 56th anniversary of American Heart Month. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in America, and the leading cause of death in the world, it’s important that people in America receive heart health education.1, 2
Exactly what is heart disease? Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a group of conditions that affect your heart health. Having narrow or blocked blood vessels are two common causes of heart disease. When there is a buildup of plaque (a mix of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances) in your blood vessels and/or a blockage, it makes it hard for blood and oxygen to move throughout your body so that it can function properly. Now heart disease isn’t the disease itself but covers a range of diseases like coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy.
Whether you want to take steps to prevent heart disease or you want to maintain your health, there are several risk factors that play a role in your heart health; factors you have control over and others you do not. Family history, age, sex, and race are factors that are outside of your control. However, there are many heart disease risk factors that you do have control over including:
- Diet and sodium intake
- Physical activity
- Alcohol intake
- Tobacco use
- Sleep habits
- Stress management
So, what are some steps you can take to prevent/manage your heart health?
- Limit your sodium intake. We need sodium to help control our blood pressure and even contract our muscles, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Having a lot of sodium in your body increases blood flow and causes a constant high-pressured force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels causing damage. For someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or any other health condition, the daily limit of salt is 1,500 mg, that’s a little over ½ a teaspoon of salt. For those without a chronic condition, the daily limit is 2,300 mg.3
- Be physically active. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults perform at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, of aerobic physical activity each week. Don’t feel overwhelmed! You can break your physical activity up throughout the day. 4
- Shed the pounds. Having extra weight on your frame may cause your heart to work harder. Research has shown that losing five to 10 pounds can improve your blood pressure. 5
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol temporarily increases blood pressure after one drink, but consistently drinking over time leads to high blood pressure (hypertension). It is recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day and women to 1 drink per day. 6
- Quit smoking. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible. Twenty minutes after you quit smoking your blood pressure drops, and your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack decreases after 1 year of quitting. Smokefree.gov is a resource for those looking for support.7
- Get some sleep, restorative sleep. There are five stages in the sleep cycle and stages 3 and 4 are two of the most important. During those two stages, your body begins to repair itself and your blood pressure decreases. Practicing sleep hygiene may help improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
- Manage your stress. Learning how to manage stress can improve your heart health. Chronic stress can lead to overeating, less sleep, and a decrease in physical activity. Think about what your stress triggers are and healthy activities you can do to relieve stress. Also learn what you do and do not have control over. 8
- Know your numbers. Keeping track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C (average blood sugar number over 2 – 3 months), and weight can help you gauge if your numbers fall within a healthy range.
Practice self-love this Valentine’s Day, and every day of the year, for the love of your heart.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Heart Disease Facts .
. American Heart Association. (2015). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance.
. American Heart Association. (2018). How much sodium should I eat per day?
. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
. American Heart Association. (2016). Managing Weight to Control High Blood Pressure.
. American Heart Association. (2016). Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure.
. American Cancer Society. (2018). Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.
. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Risk Factors for Heart Disease: Don’t Underestimate Stress.