Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While we bring attention to heart health nationwide every February, everyday habits can lead to a healthier heart year-round. It’s important that Americans not only take advantage of quality health care, but also take steps to control their blood pressure and strengthen their hearts.
Here are a few actions everyone can take:
Eat healthy: Diet is a key factor to overall heart health. While it’s ok to indulge every now and then, whole grains, fruits and vegetables should make up the bulk of your meals to ensure you’re receiving the appropriate vitamins and minerals. Generally, it’s best to avoid or minimize refined grain products (such as white bread, pasta and pastries), unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, and sodium. Tips to help with this include swapping for monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats like olive, fish, avocado, nut, and seed oils; eating freshly prepared foods, as restaurants tend to have a heavy hand with the salt shaker; and controlling portion sizes, using a small plate or bowl to avoid the temptation to overeat.
Exercise: The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 minutes of exercise per week, including muscle-building activities like resistance or weight training at least two days per week. Although many of us are tied to desks day after day, it’s important to remember that any amount of exercise is better than none. If you spend most of your day sitting, set a timer a few times a day to remind yourself to get up and move. This can be as simple as a walk around the office or neighborhood, or even a few stretches on the floor. A quick consultation with your primary care provider can help craft an exercise routine best for you.
Sleep: A lack of sleep can lead to a number of long-term health issues, including an increased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. It’s vital to try and achieve at least eight hours of sleep per night. Establishing a sleep schedule, getting regular exercise and avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day can help you get more hours at night.
Stop smoking: Tobacco and nicotine in all forms are dangerous for overall cardiovascular health and should be avoided entirely. Even one cigarette a day can be detrimental to your health, as can e-cigarettes. The good news is that it’s never too late to stop and your doctor can provide tips and resources to help you along the way.
While Heart Health Month is over, you can still celebrate with a visit with your primary care provider or cardiologist to review your medical history, check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and determine your risk. I encourage everyone to be informed, take control of their health and make lifestyle changes for a strong and healthy heart for years to come.
Dr. Ameet Parikh is a cardiologist at Pacific Medical Centers in Totem Lake in Kirkland and Canyon Park in Bothell. For more information, visit Pacmed.org.