Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Talk about a wakeup call. The good news is that you have opportunities to prevent heart disease and lessen your risk of a stroke or heart attack later in life.
To help protect your heart, I recommend taking these five steps:
- Eat Right. Along with eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains, get additional health benefits by increasing your fiber intake and reducing the amount of sodium in your diet.
Strive to get at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber each day by eating apples and pears (with the skins on), beans and lentils, whole-grain pasta, brown rice and nuts. Consume less than 2.4 grams of sodium per day (less than 1 teaspoon of table salt) by eating fresh foods whenever possible and using herbs and spices to season food. If you buy canned vegetables, fruit, or meat (i.e. tuna), rinse them before eating to remove excess salt.
- Make Time for Regular Exercise. The American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, or 30 minutes a day, five times per week. If your schedule does not allow a 30-minute block of time for exercise, try breaking it up throughout the day. There will be days you can’t fit in a longer workout. On those days, try taking several shorter walks instead.
- Keep Your Oral Health in Check. Some studies suggest your oral and heart health may be connected. That’s because some oral diseases can lead to chronic inflammation that may affect your arteries. Keep your mouth healthy by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day.
- Get Regular Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Screenings. Knowing your numbers goes a long way toward maintaining your heart health. Your total cholesterol should be kept lower than 200 mg/dL. Keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mm/Hg if you are diabetic, and less than 140/90 if you are not.
An ideal blood pressure is below 120/80, but too low can also cause health issues. Talk to your physician about finding the right goal for you. You can get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked during your annual exam with a primary care physician.
- Quit Smoking. About 20 percent of heart disease-related deaths are a direct result of smoking cigarettes. Smoking decreases the oxygen that gets to your heart, increases blood pressure and the risk of blood clots, and damages cells that line your blood vessels. If you need help quitting, enroll in a smoking cessation class.
To better understand your heart health, take Shawnee Mission Health’s free HEARTaware risk assessment. This is a great informational tool and will educate you on important heart disease risk factors.