By Dawn S. Hui, MD, associate professor, associate residency program director, Cardiothoracic Surgery
February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.
The good news is that many forms of heart disease are preventable or treatable, in consultation with a primary care provider or a cardiologist. By taking steps to help keep your heart happy and healthy, you can feel empowered, improve your overall wellness and live your best life.
Here are five ways to help keep your heart thriving during American Heart Month and throughout the year.
Know your risk factors.
The top risk factors for heart disease are diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. If you have these risk factors, please speak with your doctor about lifestyle habits that can benefit your heart.
Live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
A heart-healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet and exercise. Consider incorporating plenty of vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins like chicken and fish into your diet while cutting down on red meat and fried or fatty foods. Sugary foods are also not advised as they tend to cause inflammation. To keep your heart healthy, federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to benefit your heart. Strength training is also beneficial, especially for women who start to lose muscle mass as they get older. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be confined to the gym. Hiking, running around with your children or grandchildren or anything that gets you moving can be considered exercise.
Blood pressure is important.
Blood pressure is sometimes called the silent killer because most people don’t feel it. People with high blood pressure who are taking medication and want to monitor it, may benefit from buying a blood pressure cuff. For the general population, while it’s not absolutely necessary, every CVS, Walgreens and the like have free-to-use blood pressure kiosks by the pharmacy, so doing a few spot checks wouldn’t hurt. Please keep in mind that it’s best to check your blood pressure when you’re rested and not stressed. If you check it several times and you find that it’s consistently high, then speak with your doctor about being evaluated. Normal blood pressure numbers are 90-120 systolic (top number) and 50-80 diastolic (bottom number). If the top number is consistently 140 or above, seek consultation with your primary care doctor.
We know tobacco use is detrimental to heart health and health in general. For many smokers, it can be understandably difficult to quit. UT Health San Antonio provides a number of resources to help, including classes to quit smoking, smoking cessation counseling sessions and additional resources from reputable organizations. If you’re a smoker and are having a hard time quitting, your doctor can help with medications and nicotine patches. If you’d prefer to quit smoking without medications, consider other resources to help you quit and consider seeking the support of family or friends. Having a support network can be a big help.
Establish health care with a primary care doctor.
If you haven’t already, start care with a primary care physician so you can work with them to lower your risk factors for heart disease. With some simple lifestyle changes, you can often have a healthier heart. Primary care doctors are also great resources for deciding if you need more specialized care and can refer you to a specialist if needed.
By taking the above steps, you can help mitigate risk factors for heart disease and help keep your heart healthy for years to come.