Heart disease and stroke are, respectively, the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Million Hearts project is a national initiative whose goal is to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
Million Hearts hopes to prevent stroke and heart disease by improving people’s access to effective care as well as improving quality of care. One way this has already happened is that the Affordable Care Act now requires that new health plans cover, at no cost to you, recommended preventive services such as blood pressure screening for all adults, plus cholesterol screening for adults of certain ages or who are at a higher risk. Million Hearts also hopes to focus clinical attention on preventing heart attacks and strokes and motivate people to have heart-healthy lifestyles.
The risk factors for heart disease and stroke can be prevented or controlled. Since February is Heart Month, it’s an ideal time to take steps to improve your heart health. Million Hearts recommends taking the following steps:
- Remember your ABCS–that’s appropriate aspirin therapy for those who need it, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation–every day, and especially when you talk to you doctor.
- Talk to your doctor–make sure your doc knows your health history, get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and find out if taking aspirin daily is right for you.
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol–if your blood pressure and/or your cholesterol are high, take steps to lower them. This may include eating a healthier diet, exercising more, and following your doctor’s advice about what medications to take.
- Eat heart-healthy–go for fruits and veggies, low-sodium foods, and foods low in fat. Cook at home more often so that you can prepare your food in healthier ways–such as using a low-sodium broth for your vegetable soup, skipping sodium-laden gravies, and shunning ready-made bagged pastas and rice mixes in favor of cooking your own rice and pasta.
- Get a move on–obesity can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. To maintain a healthy weight and to fight high blood pressure and high cholesterol, exercise. Million Hearts recommends fitting in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking, most days of the week. It’s also a good idea to consult your doctor before you begin an exercise program.
- Snuff it out–because cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease, it’s a good idea to quit smoking.
It’s never too early to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and cholesterol, so make a point to mention it at your next appointment. Don’t have a doctor yet? Health Advocate can help you find an in-network primary care physician in your area.