February is American Heart Month, an important time to think about your heart’s health and learn more about how to get, and stay, heart-healthy.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States and impacts approximately 26.6 million Americans. About half of the U.S. population has at least one key risk factor for heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. However, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your risk and improve your heart health.
- See your doctor for a check-up – It’s important to get regular check-ups to help identify any conditions that could potentially lead to heart issues, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. By identifying these issues early, it is possible to manage them effectively and avoid more complicated problems later on.
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet – By incorporating more healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your diet, it’s possible to improve the factors that can lead to heart disease. In addition, focus on fresh foods and try to avoid foods high in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Be active – Exercising regularly can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, which can help improve some of the risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol and blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise to get the most benefit, and try to incorporate both cardiovascular and strength training exercise, which can help increase your levels of good cholesterol.
- Take steps to reduce stress – Too much stress can raise your blood pressure, which over time can increase your risk for heart disease. Make sure to take time for yourself each day to do something you enjoy or just relax to keep stress levels under control.
- Quit tobacco – Smoking greatly increases your risk for developing heart disease, and even exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart attack by nearly 70 percent. Talk to your doctor about options to help you quit smoking; it can help improve your health as well as those around you.
- Get enough sleep – Studies show that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night are more likely to die of heart disease than those who are better rested. When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to be more stressed (and stress can lead to lack of sleep!), leading to higher blood pressure. Make sure to de-stress before going to bed in order to get enough sleep to feel well-rested and able to tackle the next day.
While these steps are important to improving your heart health and reducing your risk of developing heart disease, they can also help improve your overall health. By taking one step at a time, you can make great strides toward preventing heart disease.