Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States, but you may be surprised to know that only 27% of people are aware of all the major symptoms of a heart attack. The network of health conditions that raise your risk for heart disease isn’t just about preventing a heart attack—but recognizing and treating the red flags that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and heart rhythm problems. Do you know the best ways to guard your heart? Here are a few ways to get you started:
Know your personal risk. Your age, ethnicity and family history all play key roles in your risk for the development of heart disease. Advancements in medicine are making it easier to identify risks by looking at your DNA—the components of your body that control who you are on a genetic level. A simple test can identify potential variants that may raise your risk for heart disease and help guide you and your doctor in future medical decisions. The Cardiac DNA Insight ® test by Pathway Genomics is one option that you can order and take at home, then mail to a lab for processing. When the results are mailed back to you, you can share the results with your doctor to learn more about your genetics, risks, actionable responses, and health factors regarding your cardiac health.
Get moving. 30 minutes of light to moderate activity (like walking briskly) five days a week is a good way to build up the strength of your heart muscle and get your blood pumping. Over time good quality exercise may help you control your weight and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Make healthy eating choices. Try to eat a balanced diet that includes low-fat dairy, lean meats like chicken or fish, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. It’s a known fact that a “Mediterranean-type” diet is the best for heart health. Having a sweet treat once in a while is fine, but keep the portions small and don’t make it a daily habit.
Quit smoking. Even though the number of adults who smoke is declining, some 40 million Americans still use tobacco products on a regular basis. Smoking is the #2 cause of preventable disease in the United States (only behind obesity) and is well documented to raise your risk for heart and blood vessel morbidity.
Keep your blood pressure in check. Many people don’t know if their blood pressure levels are creeping up. That means that wear and tear on the inside of arteries and veins can progress without notice. Getting regular checkups will help you stay informed about your blood pressure and let your healthcare provider work on maintaining your health for years to come.
Watch your weight. Obesity can lead to a spectrum of health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)—all of which are part of the patchwork of conditions that may lead to heart disease.
Breathe deep. Stress can be good at times as it motivates us toward a purpose or goal. But long-term intense stress may raise your risk for high blood pressure and the release of hormones that may negatively affect your blood vessels. Try to manage stress by doing activities you enjoy with friends, get a hobby, or just take a walk to blow off steam. Avoid negative people and situations that may trigger severe stress.
Consider the above recommendations when thinking about your personal progress towards achieving heart health. Working with your healthcare providers and making healthy lifestyle choices will all contribute to a healthy heart!