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Heart Healthy

February is American Heart Month, a time to bring awareness to the number one cause of death among Americans—heart disease. Every year, heart disease causes 1 in 4 deaths and is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The good news is that heart disease can be prevented in most cases by making healthy choices and managing existing health conditions. However, in some cases, genetics and family history also play a role in whether or not you are at risk. It’s important for you to know your risk level and how to keep your heart healthy.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease refers to multiple types of heart conditions, but the main form is coronary artery disease, which affects blood flow to the heart and can lead to a heart attack. Others include arrhythmia and congenital heart disease which can lead to heart failure or stroke.

Am I at risk for heart disease?

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity. Some of these risk factors are beyond our control, such as family history and advanced age. Certain populations are also at greater risk—including African Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans. Risk of heart disease also rises as we grow older.

How can I prevent heart disease?

The good news is that you have more control over your heart health than you may think. There are many heart disease risk factors that you can manage and making healthy life style changes can reduce your risk.

  • Quit smoking. Those who smoke or use tobacco of any kind have more than double the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers. The chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels leading to narrow arteries.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise – at least 30 minutes a day, several days a week – can help improve your cholesterol levels and lower your blood pressure. Exercise not only helps you burn calories but it also helps your body expel LDL (bad cholesterol). Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and dancing can all help keep your heart healthy.
  • Eat healthy. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. You should avoid foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and refined sugars. Try to increase foods that are full of vitamins and nutrients, especially antioxidants. The following foods are considered super foods for your heart: salmon, oatmeal, blueberries, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts, and beans.
  • Manage Stress. Stress and anger can lead to heart attack and stroke. Learn to manage your time better and to set realistic goals to help manage your stress levels. Anger management techniques such as getting regular exercise, ensuring you are getting enough sleep, and breathing exercises can help reduce your risks.

While there is no guarantee that making heart-healthy choices will keep heart disease away, these changes will improve your health in other ways, including improving your physical and emotional well-being.

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