February is heart month, but given the statistics, every month should be used as an opportunity to bring awareness to heart disease.
Heart disease is the number killer of both men and women, and according to the American Heart Association, every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter, or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or other forms of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). It is also known that more than one in three women are living with CVD, including nearly half of all African-American women and 34 percent of white women. Although the statistics seem dismal, one redeeming thing is, a large percent of heart disease may be prevented with just a few simple activities done consistently.
01. Know your numbers as they represent risk factors for cardiovascular disease and you cannot fix something if you do not know there is a problem. Those important numbers include cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI). According to the American Heart Association, aim for a cholesterol level less than 200, a low density lipoprotein (LDL) which is the bad cholesterol (think L for lousy) less than150, a high density lipoprotein (HDL) which is the good cholesterol (think H for healthy) greater than 60, and triglycerides less than 100. A diet filled with saturated fat can worsen your cholesterol while exercise improves some types of cholesterols. In general, aim for blood pressures less than 120/80, fasting blood sugar less than 100, and a BMI (a number calculated using your weight and height and is an indication of body fatness) less than 25.
02. Do not smoke because smoking carries a high risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer. If that is not convincing enough, remember that smoking causes you to smell, discolors your teeth, and increases wrinkles. If you smoke, ask your healthcare provider about resources to help you quit. If you do not smoke, do not start because it is very difficult to stop, plus smoking is no longer considered cool.
03. If you must drink, do so in moderation because according to the American Heart Association, high levels of alcohol increases the risk of alcoholism, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, breast cancer, suicide, and accidents. Drinking in moderation means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women (a drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits).
04. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake seeing that several researches have indicated that people live longer healthier lives if they eat meals that are high in fruits and vegetables. Your plate should be colorful and should not consist of only meat and potatoes or meat and rice. If meat makes up a big part of your current diet, find creative ways to decrease your meat intake such as “meatless Mondays” and “fish only Fridays.” Consider starting off your day healthily by having a fruit and vegetable smoothie first thing in the morning.
05. Increase your activity as exercise is not only good for your heart, but it can help to keep you active and flexible, promotes weight loss, relieves stress, elevates mood, enhances your sex life, improves brain function, and results in a great sense of wellbeing. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day, and if time is an issue, consider exercising in 10-minute increments. To make yourself more compliant with exercising, participate in activities that you actually enjoy, such as gardening, swimming, dancing, bowling, and tennis.
06. Manage your stress since persistent stress results in the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can worsen various diseases including heart disease. In the National Geographic documentary “Stress the Portrait of a Killer,” Stamford neurobiologist Dr. Robert Sopolsky studied baboons in Kenya and his experiment showed that baboons exposed to persistent stress, aged more quickly, experienced increased heart rates and blood pressures, showed decreased immune function, had bad coronary arteries, and exhibited the brain chemistry similar to that found in depressed individuals. To address your stress, first take an assessment to determine what your sources of stress are, and when possible, avoid or limit those stressors. If persistent stress is inevitable, use simple stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, exercise, meditation, prayer, journaling, practicing gratitude, getting adequate sleep, taking long baths, massages, getting in touch with your spirituality, and talking about your feelings.
07. Cultivate good relationships because this is essential for your emotional health, and your emotional health can affect your physical health. Studies support the idea that loneliness is a risk factor for diseases, and that relationships have a positive effect on everything from heart health to age-related health issues. Begin cultivating good relationships by first being a friend to someone and nurturing the friendships you already have.
To learn more about heart disease and heart attack symptoms especially in women and how to protect your heart, listen to my radio interview here with nationally known cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Dubin.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purpose only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment.