February is designated by the American Heart Association heart health month, but every day is the perfect day to keep your heart healthy. Cardiovascular disease can happen at any age and remains the leading cause of death in the United States. So, whether you are 18 or 88, here are some tips to keep your ticker in tip top shape.
- Don’t smoke and if you do, quit. Smoking is one of the most preventable causes of heart disease. Roughly 1 out of every 5 deaths from heart disease is related to smoking and every cigarette (or e-cigarette) you smoke makes you two to four times more likely to develop heart disease. Smoking reduces oxygen to your heart, raises blood pressure, speeds your heart rate, damages your blood vessels and causes your blood to become sticky – think blood clots. The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke by half in just one year.
- Not only can physical activity reduce your risk of heart disease, it can actually help reverse some risk factors. The heart is a muscle and can be strengthened with exercise just like any other muscle. Keeping your heart fit allows it to pump blood more efficiently and work at an optimal level. Experts recommend you exercise 30 minutes per day, five days per week to maintain heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Also, avoid long periods of prolonged sitting. If you find yourself sitting at a desk all day or binge watching your favorite tv show at night, try to take a brief break from sitting still every 30-60 minutes.
- Eat a Heart Healthy Diet. Eating a variety of heart healthy foods, including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, low-fat dairy and lean animal proteins is one of the easiest ways to fight cardiovascular disease. You should also limit sweetened drinks, sodium, highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates in your diet. Trans fat and partially hydrogenated oils (found in things like margarine, packaged snacks, baked foods, fried foods and non-dairy creamer) should be avoided all together. Also, learn how to read food labels to help you make healthier choices and control your calorie intake.
- Lose weight. Shedding those extra pounds will not only make you look better, feel stronger and give you more energy, it will also reduce the burden put on your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. In fact, if you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can help lower your risk of heart disease.
- Manage Blood Pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) can damage arteries, prevent blood flow to the heart, cause clots to form, lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. The damage from high blood pressure happens slowly over time, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked and understand the factors that could lead to high blood pressure.
- Keep Blood Sugar Under Control. The American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Many people don’t know they have elevated blood sugar levels or diabetes until it’s too late. Have your blood sugar checked at your annual exam and know your risks for developing diabetes. Your doctor can guide you in ways to reduce or manage high blood sugar if necessary.
- Studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and an increase in high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and obesity – all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Sleep apnea and insomnia can also take a toll on your heart’s health. Experts suggest that you aim for 7 hours of shut eye each night to keep your heart healthy. Here are some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep… Stick to a regular schedule and routine, get enough physical activity during the day, avoid screens for an hour before bedtime, don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime and keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
- Brush and Floss Your Teeth. While scientists don’t quite understand why, there appear to be connections between oral health and heart disease. Gum disease has been associated with increased risk of developing heart disease, poor dental health can affect heart valves and tooth loss patterns are connected to coronary artery disease. Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes and flossing regularly will not only keep your pearly whites looking good but could also help keep your heart healthy.
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