How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Heart healthy foods like watermelon, salmon and beans

February is National Heart Month, a time to learn more about cardiovascular health and how to keep your heart healthy. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and one in four deaths each year are related to heart disease.

The proverb “Prevention is better than a cure” is particularly true in cardiovascular medicine. Although there are some factors not in your control that can increase your risk for heart disease, such as your age, race and gender, a lot of factors are within your control that can lower your risk. Take the quick assessment below to learn more about your current heart health and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

Heart-healthy Behaviors

  • Not Smoking: Tobacco increases the risk of developing heart disease. If you’re a smoker, talk to a physician about options that can help you stop.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight: People with overweight or obesity have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure or diabetes, which can lead to heart disease. If you struggle with your weight, talk to a healthcare provider about tools that can assist you. The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) has a locator tool for obesity care providers with training and expertise in weight management.
  • Exercising: Movement helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Try not to get overwhelmed. Physical activity adds up quickly when you break it into chunks.
  • Eat Balanced: Fill your plate with lean meats, reduced-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit and whole grains for optimal nutrition. These foods provide your body with the best nutrition for long-term health.
  • Limit Sugar and Fat: Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy and low-sugar foods. High-fat and high-sugar foods can increase your cholesterol, glucose and triglycerides. Choose these foods in moderation.
    • Trim fat off meat and bake, broil or grill.
    • Choose low-fat cheese, yogurt and milk.
    • Avoid sugary snacks.
  • Eat More Fish: The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week. Fatty fish such as salmon, cod, sardines, herring and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Moderate Alcohol: Alcohol can increase your blood pressure and triglycerides, so drink moderately. Men should generally have no more than two drinks per day while women should generally have no more than one.
  • Know Your Numbers: Your heart health numbers are important to track. See your physician to assess your current heart health and have your labs drawn, which you should strive to annually. Work with your provider to develop a plan to improve your heart health based on where you’re at.
    • Blood pressure: At or less than 120/80 mmHg
    • Blood sugar: Less than 100 mg/dL after fasting for eight hours
    • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
    • Waist size: Less than 35 inches for women; less than 40 for men
  • Prioritize Sleep: Rest and sleep play a significant role in keeping your risk for heart disease at bay. Sleep influences every area of your life, including mood, memory and reasoning. Aim for 7-8 hours per night for optimal performance.

This National Heart Month, take some time to reflect on your lifestyle and see how you can improve your heart health. Show your heart some love!

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