Quick: Stop what you are doing and take a deep breath. Enjoy a moment of calm and relaxation and listen to your heart beat. How does it feel to you? Is it too fast or too hard? Are you breathing normally, or does your breath feel labored and restricted?
Your heart works fiercely night and day to propel blood through your body and supply organs with rich, life-giving oxygen, so it's essential to stop once in a while and take stock of how your heart is doing.
It’s ALSO essential for you to realize how easily you can change your habits and lead the kind of life that drastically cuts down the risk of heart disease – still the number one killer of men and women in the United States, according to The Heart Foundation.
There are two big things that inevitably lead to heart trouble: High blood pressure and high cholesterol. When was the last time you checked with your doctor?
The point: You are never too young to start healthy habits. Here’s a checklist of things to think about to put you on the path to better heart health:
Feeling the pressure. Your blood pressure should be taken each year and fall within the normal range of 120/80. Talk to your doctor to determine what your goal should be since it can shift according to age and other health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Crazy cholesterol. This is bit more complex since there is “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. But bad cholesterol is a waxy substance that you get from food, and it can build up inside your arteries. Get your numbers checked. The American Heart Association says levels higher than 100 mg/dl can be acceptable in some cases, but inching higher than 130 is cause for concern.
As always – it’s your diet. We might get tired of hearing it, but it’s as simple as this: A healthy diet is your best weapon against heart disease. Whole grains, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Limit sweets and sugar, and concentrate more on a plant-based diet, according to Dr. Karla Quevedo, Lee Physician Group cardiologist.
Fiber and foods with a low glycemic index and low glycemic load will have less of an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, Quevedo says. This will help you avoid diabetes, which leads to a host of heart issues.
For the last time: Just quit smoking. The benefits of quitting smoking begin to appear after only a few months and reach that of a nonsmoker in several years.
Ease into exercise. Commit to 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week and 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week. If you have other health conditions that limit your capacity for exercise, you should stay as physically active as your condition allows.
Peek at that belly fat. Abdominal obesity is defined as a waist circumference greater than or equal to 102 centimeters—or 40 inches—in men and greater than or equal to 88 centimeters—or 35 inches—in women. Belly fat increases your risk of heart disease.
How stressed are you? Do you get mad a lot? Hold onto grudges? Are you stressed at work? Constantly worried? Can’t sleep? Your heart is feeling that weight.
“There is a link between psychological stress and atherosclerosis—which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries and a condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Quevedo says. “There is a correlation between depression, anger and stress and cardiovascular outcomes. Addressing those issues is another way you can positively impact your heart health.”
Invest in yoga, meditation, counseling, more exercise — whatever you need to lighten the load and feel a little easier.
Take care of your teeth. Did you know that periodontal gum disease has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease? Plaque buildup can cause bacteria to flow through your bloodstream. It might not be fun to visit the dentist, but a cleaning feels so good!
Sleep trouble. Do you snore? Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Researchers have found that not getting a good night’s sleep can lead to inflammation. And snoring might indicate sleep apnea, which can raise the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, or even a heart attack.
You won’t be able to change everything – age and genetic makeup among them – but you can take the time to stop, breathe, and make sure your heart is as healthy as possible.
For tips, treatment options, or to find a cardiologist, visit our Cardiology services page
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