Your heart is the engine that drives your body. It's a powerful muscle that pumps blood to your entire body, providing the oxygen and nutrients that you need to live. Your heart is designed to last a lifetime, but you have to do your part to help ensure it stays in good working order. There are many steps you can take to keep your heart healthy and strong and prevent heart disease from developing.
What is Heart Disease?
Cardiovascular (heart) disease includes a number of conditions that affect the heart, blood vessels, and other organs. The most common type of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis, a condition where arteries leading to and from the heart become inflamed and clogged with fatty deposits or plaque. Over time, plaque grows and narrows the arteries, starving the heart, brain and other organs of blood.
Know Your Risk
Certain habits or conditions, called risk factors, lead to poor heart health. For example, having a family history of heart disease, being a man over age 45 and being a woman over 55 are all risk factors for heart disease. Obviously, these are risk factors that you can't change. However, you can control many risk factors for heart disease, says Jodi dePinna, R.N., cardiac educator with Providence Health & Services.
"There is a lot you can do – and not do – to keep your heart healthy," says dePinna. "Certain lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, increasing exercise and losing weight can have a dramatic impact on your risk for heart disease."
Heart Disease Risk Factors You Can't Control
- Age (Being older than 45 and male or older than 55 and female)
- Race (African Americans are at a higher risk than other ethnicities)
- Gender (Men are more prone to heart attacks, but more women than men die from cardiovascular disease)
- Family medical history
Heart Disease Risk Factors You Can Control
- Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight
Know Your Numbers
"Knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers is important to assess your risk for heart disease," says dePinna, who suggests getting your blood pressure checked every three to six months, and cholesterol checked at least once a year. Speak with your physician or provider about recommendations for keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Take these steps to keep your heart healthy and strong starting today:
- Get active. Aerobic exercise improves the heart's pumping ability and lowers cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body fat, and mental stress. "Extra pounds make your heart work harder," says dePinna, "You'll see substantial rewards by adding regular physical activity to your life."
- Start slow and set reasonable goals for increasing your physical activity. Begin with moderately paced activities like walking, gardening, or swimming to get your heart rate up. Over time, work up to 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week. If you can't dedicate a full 30 minutes, try three 10-minute intervals. Eat right. Heart-healthy eating is about eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting foods that are high in fat and cholesterol, such as meat and cheese. Remember the rainbow and choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables in dark greens, blues, yellow and reds. Aim for five servings every day.
- Know your fats. When it comes to your heart, all fats are not equal, advises dePinna. The best choice for cooking and eating are olive and canola oils, which are rich in monosaturated fats. The worst are saturated and trans fats found in butter, meat fats, and many processed snack foods.
- Watch your serving size. Practice moderation when eating at home or dining out. Judge normal portion sizes by recognizable equivalents. A three-ounce portion of meat, fish or poultry is the size of a deck of cards. One serving of pasta is the size of an ice cream scoop. One tablespoon of peanut butter is about the size of the tip of your thumb.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, damages artery walls, speeds up the clogging of arteries, and makes the heart work harder.
Your heart is designed to last your whole life, so don't wait for heart disease to affect you. Take steps today to protect your health and your heart. Heart disease is the nations number one killer for both men and women. The earlier in life you develop good health habits, the better prepared you will be as you grow older.
The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Minutes matter! Fast action saves lives. Know the warning signs of a heart attack can save a life... perhaps your own. If you or someone else has any of these warning signs, call 9-1-1 immediately and get emergency medical help.
The American Heart Association Offers These Signs of a Heart Attack:
GoodHealth News - Providence Health Plans
- Chest discomfort. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Upper body discomfort. Pain and discomfort can include other areas of the upper body including one or both arms, the back, neck or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. Often occurs with or before chest discomfort.
- Other signs. Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness are also indicators of a heart attack.