Love your HeartTonya Smikal
To live you “got’ta have heart!” Thus, we all need to evaluate our cardiovascular health. Heart disease still accounts for more than half of deaths in the US. Cancer, the second largest killer, only accounts for a little more than half as many deaths. With those sobering statistics in mind, let us explore ways to improve our chances of not becoming one of them. First, let us identify some risk factors for heart disease and see how we fair in these areas. After all, you cannot fix something if you don’t know it’s broken or in danger of breaking.
Being overweight is one risk factor that seems to outweigh them all (pun intended) because it can lead to other risk factors. Carrying extra weight can lead to higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol and diabetes. Maintaining a healthy body weight is hard but definitely achievable. Dietary changes will have the greatest impact, followed up by changing up your physical activity. If you are overweight, making a change can seem overwhelming at first but little steps in the right direction can make a big difference. Consistency is the key!
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the major factors for heart disease. A normal blood pressure for an adult is around 120/80. To get the most accurate blood pressure reading:
- Avoid caffeine, cigarettes and other stimulants for at least 30 minutes beforehand
- Wait at least 30 minutes after eating
- If you are taking a medication for blood pressure, measure before you take it
- Empty your bladder beforehand
- Rest for five minutes in a sitting position before measuring
- keep your body relaxed with your feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed
- take two readings, one minute apart
If your blood pressure readings are consistently higher than normal, talk to your doctor.
High blood cholesterol is also linked to higher risk for heart disease. Your body needs some cholesterol to function properly, but it does not need excessive amounts. If your body produces more LDL (bad) cholesterol than the cells can absorb, it lodges in the artery walls and contributes to the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque, the ultimate cause of heart attacks and many strokes. HDL (good) cholesterol removes LDL from the artery walls and helps return LDL back to the liver for processing or elimination. Causes of high cholesterol are eating foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats. Obesity and heredity can also affect your chances of it developing. Many people with high cholesterol don’t even know it because it does not exhibit symptoms until there is a serious medical concern. That is why it is important to have a routine cholesterol screening.
Other risk factors include stress, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, age, hormones, diabetes and genetics. If you have more than one risk factor, your odds of developing heart disease are not just increased – they are multiplied! The good news is that we have control over some of these risk factors by eating a heart-healthy diet, getting and staying active and keeping track of changes in our blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s never too late to begin improving your heart health and you have already started by understanding your risks.