February marks the start of American Heart Month. This makes it a great time to prioritize your own heart health. Did you know heart disease and stroke are two of the biggest causes of death in the U.S.—and around the world? It’s also estimated that for Americans, someone will have a heart attack every 40 seconds1.
We know these facts are scary. But there are things you can do to lessen your risk and start living heart healthy. Below are some facts about heart disease, plus risk factors you can manage through lifestyle changes and with your health provider’s help. So, this American Heart Month—take time to listen to your heart!
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a range of conditions that affect the heart. The most common of these is coronary artery disease, where a buildup in the arteries reduces blood flow to and from the heart.
Other types include:
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
- Disease of the heart muscle.
- Congenital heart defects (ones you’re born with).
- Heart valve disease.
Though heart disease sometimes displays symptoms, it can also be silent until a cardiac event occurs. That’s one reason it’s often tricky to diagnose early—and why it’s so important to be aware of risk factors you may have.
Risk factors you can manage
Some risk factors of heart disease you can’t do anything about. These are things like your age, race, gender and family history. However, several others you can control on your own or manage and treat with the help of your doctor, such as:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Excess body weight.
Where to start
So, where’s a good place to start? As it turns out, many lifestyle tips doctors suggest for managing heart disease—are the same ones you can use to prevent it. Here are a few to start with:
- Move more, sit less. Regular exercise is important for your heart. You should aim to move for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. For your heart, good food choices include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. It’s also beneficial to trim out salt, saturated fat and added sugar.
- Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart and overall health. Chemicals in tobacco smoke are harmful to your blood vessels and also contribute to faster buildup of plaque in the arteries.
- Check your blood pressure. The first step to regulating your blood pressure is to monitor it at home. You can do this by taking readings using an upper-arm monitor and discussing the results with your doctor.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Being overweight is hard on your heart. It also increases your risk of stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Choosing heart-healthy foods and getting regular exercise can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.
- Reduce your stress. High levels of stress often contribute to high blood pressure and other heart risks. It’s important to practice regular stress relief and find methods that work for you. Some things to try include meditation, yoga, workouts you enjoy, breathing exercises or simply connecting with friends.
- Get better sleep. A good night’s sleep is good for you overall and is linked to better heart health. Most adults need at least seven hours each night to function at their best.
- Know your numbers. Meet your heart health goals by tracking your numbers, such as weight, height, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure. All of these can impact your heart health. Participating in biometric screenings through work or with your doctor can help you with this.
Check your Meritain Health® benefits
If you’re a Meritain Health member, you can also check your benefits for resources geared toward better heart health. These may include access to biometric screenings, smoking cessation programs, walk-in clinics, wellness challenges and more.
Want to do more to support heart health?
If you’d like to do more to support heart health, you can participate in National Wear Red Day® on February 2. This effort aims to raise awareness and educate about heart disease and its specific impact on women. Read more about the campaign and how to help at www.goredforwomen.org.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice.