Be Heart Smart: Your Pathway to Vibrant Living
Heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, and it’s essential to take steps to prevent it at every age. Whether you’re in your 20s or your 80s, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to protect your heart and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
The Importance of a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
A heart-healthy lifestyle involves making smart choices about diet and exercise and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. A heart-healthy lifestyle can improve your overall health and well-being and reduce risk.
Diet and Nutrition
A healthy diet is one of the most essential components of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium, can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Instead, choose foods low in these substances and high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), fish, nuts and legumes. In addition, it’s important to limit your intake of sugarsweetened beverages and red meats and to choose lean cuts of meat.
Say No to Tobacco
If you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. If you are interested in quitting smoking, talk to your doctor about various options available to assist with smoking cessation.
In addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise is also essential for reducing the risk of heart disease. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week. Alternatively, you can aim for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, such as running, three days a week.
Incorporate strength training activities into your routine at least two days a week. Any physical activity is better than none, and small bouts throughout the day can add significant health benefits. If you need help figuring out where to start with exercise, talk to your doctor about developing a safe and effective exercise plan.
Body mass index of 25 or higher is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol. Waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Even losing a few pounds can yield significant benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reducing blood sugar.
Stress can have a negative impact on heart health, so it’s essential to find healthier ways to manage it. Exercise is one great way to manage stress, as are meditation, yoga, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Social support and community involvement can have a positive impact on heart health. Joining a support group or exercise class can provide a sense of camaraderie and accountability, making it easier to stick to heart-healthy habits.
Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is an essential component of overall health. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night, and children need even more. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. If you feel tired throughout the day despite getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor about being evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Regular Health Check-Ups
High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes can damage the heart and blood vessels over a period of time. Regular screening is recommended to check for the conditions mentioned above and determine if action needs to be taken.
• Blood pressure: Blood pressure should be measured once every two years from age 18. Individuals 40 years old and above should undergo an annual blood pressure check.
• Cholesterol: Screening for blood cholesterol should start between ages 9 and 11 and be repeated every five years – the frequency of screening changes with age. Women aged 55-65 and men aged 45-65 should be screened every one to two years, while those over 65 should be screened annually.
• Diabetes: Diabetes screening should start at age 35 or earlier if risk factors (overweight BMI>25, gestational diabetes, family history of diabetes) are present. If the test results return normal, it is recommended to repeat the testing at least once every three years.
Vaccines, including yearly flu, COVID-19, pneumococcal and Tdap, should be up to date to prevent infections that can worsen existing heart problems.
Lastly, know the warning symptoms of heart attack, which include chest pain/pressure, tightness, squeezing sensation or aching, pain spreading to shoulder, arm, neck, jaw and back, cold sweat, indigestion, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. Symptoms of heart attack in women can be different, like persistent pain in the neck, back, jaw and shoulder blades, fatigue, sweating, nausea and indigestion. When you experience these symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention.
Phani Surapaneni, MD, is a clinical assistant professor of cariology at LSU Health Shreveport.