The heart is one of the most important organs in your body. It is responsible for pumping blood and delivering vital nutrients and oxygen to the rest of your body. To maintain a healthy heart, adopting habits promoting cardiovascular well-being is crucial.
Taking care of your heart should be a top priority, and that’s why American Heart Month, observed every February, is the perfect time to focus on heart health and raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases, like heart disease and high blood pressure. Show your heart some love by implementing heart-healthy habits from this Medical House Calls article to keep your heart strong and vibrant.
Importance of Heart Health
The heart is the cardiovascular system’s pump that provides vital oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Taking care of the heart means healthy eating, regular exercise, and maintaining good habits like managing stress. It also means getting enough sleep and avoiding habits that can be detrimental to heart health, such as excessive drinking or smoking.
A healthy lifestyle can help prevent and manage heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions and diseases that affect the heart. In addition, it can improve your mood, increase energy, and promote life longevity.
Achieving a healthy heart requires an honest assessment of one’s risk factors, including age, family history, and other inherited traits. It also includes evaluating one’s current health and fitness levels and creating a plan for improving them moving forward. Depending on one’s unique risk profile, taking medication to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and lifestyle changes may also be necessary. Fortunately, most heart-healthy decisions, such as diet, exercise, lifestyle habits, and stress management, are controllable.
Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Choices
The heart-healthy lifestyle choices you make — including eating nutritiously, getting regular physical activity, managing your stress, and maintaining a healthy weight — can significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, it can prevent heart attacks and strokes that result from uncontrolled high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other medical conditions.
Ideally, you should follow an eating pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables (including those with dark leafy greens), fish, whole grains, beans, and nuts. A diet that’s low in salt, sugar, and saturated fat is also beneficial. To start, try to incorporate vegetables and fruit into every meal and swap processed snacks for healthier options like nuts, seeds, and hummus.
You should also consider getting 7–9 hours of sleep each night, as sleep can lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health. In addition, be sure to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly to ensure they are in a normal range. Lastly, try to avoid smoking as much as possible. This will not only protect your heart but will also benefit your lungs and respiratory system.
Dietary Strategies for a Healthy Heart
For years, researchers have studied the connections between diet and heart health. They have looked at individual nutrients like dietary cholesterol and certain fats, as well as specific vitamins and minerals. But it’s important to look at a broader pattern of eating and consider the whole food supply when developing a heart-healthy diet. Aim for a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes fish, lean meat, poultry, and nuts; and uses vegetable oils instead of butter and other saturated fats.
Limit red meat, processed meats (like hot dogs and salami), salty snack foods, and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and cookies. Instead, choose more plant proteins like beans and legumes, as well as unsalted nuts, and select healthier fats such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Focus on a diet that’s low in sodium, which can raise blood pressure—known as the silent killer—and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. But remember that an occasional treat, like a bowl of ice cream or a handful of chips, shouldn’t derail your overall heart health plan.
Exercise and Physical Activity
While it may be difficult to make exercise a priority in your busy day-to-day life, it is one of the most effective steps you can take toward a healthy heart. Not only does it strengthen the heart muscle, but it also helps to manage or prevent many of the risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Any form of physical activity can benefit the heart, from walking and running to dancing and swimming. Even routine activities, such as gardening and household chores, are helpful.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. In addition, they should engage in moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as lifting weights or yoga) two days a week. Exercise-induced changes help prevent or improve other risk factors contributing to heart disease, such as high blood sugar and blood pressure, obesity, and a lack of regular sleep. These beneficial changes are why it is so important to exercise regularly.
Stress Management and Emotional Well-being
Stress is one of the main contributors to heart disease. Unmanaged, it can lead to high blood pressure, raise cholesterol, and cause other symptoms that may not be immediately obvious. It’s important to recognize that stress can affect your mood and the way you behave. If you feel you are suffering from stress, see your general practitioner, who will be able to give advice on treatment or refer you to a mental health professional. They can recommend mindfulness-based approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that can help reduce stress levels.
It’s also important to seek support from friends and family. Stress can lead to changes in behavior, which can then impact other people in your life, including children and spouses. Try to limit the amount of time you spend with people who cause you stress and learn healthy coping mechanisms.
Medical Check-Ups and Screenings
A medical checkup is a great opportunity to discuss your health and wellness with your doctor. It is also a chance to prevent diseases and catch them in their early stages when they are easier to treat. During a routine checkup, the doctor will review your family history, examine you physically (either in-person or via video link), order screening tests, and may refer you to specialists. He or she will also ask you questions about your lifestyle, habits, and diet to see if you are healthy enough.
The frequency of regular checkups varies on a case-by-case basis, but generally, the elderly and those with a family history of chronic conditions will need to attend more frequently than younger, generally healthy individuals. Most clinics and hospitals offer Preventive Health Checkup Packages, which are categorized by age and include various screening tests based on your individual health needs. Taking steps to keep your heart healthy can seem daunting, especially with all the busyness of life. However, with a little bit of planning and self-care, you can be heart-healthy year-round.
Recognizing the Signs of Heart Disease
You can lower your risk of heart disease by making healthy lifestyle choices, but it is still important to recognize the early warning signs and take preventative action. Watch for symptoms of heart disease, which can vary by sex and age. Common signs include:
- Chest Pain or Pressure
- Shortness of Breath
- Nausea or Vomiting
While everyone knows the classic heart attack symptoms like severe chest pain or pressure, other less-common indicators can be difficult to recognize, particularly for women. If you suspect that you have a heart problem, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible because it could save your life.
Preventive Measures for a Healthy Heart
A healthy heart requires a well-rounded prevention plan that includes diet, exercise, sleep, and other factors. Talk to your healthcare team to create a personalized plan to reduce your heart disease risk or prevent a heart attack. You may be able to change some of your lifestyle risks, such as smoking and not getting enough sleep. But you can’t change non-modifiable risk factors, like your family history or sex at birth.
To reduce your risk of a heart attack, follow these heart health tips:
- Quit Smoking: Seek support to quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Limit Alcohol: If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation; limit to one drink per day for women and two for men.
- Get 7–9 Hours of Sleep Per Night: Adults need a proper amount of sleep per night to prevent a buildup of cholesterol and high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.
- Stay Active Regularly: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Include muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week.
- Maintain a Balanced Diet and Control Portion Sizes: Choose a heart-healthy diet full of whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, nuts, and fish. Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating.
- Limit Saturated and Trans Fats: Reduce intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats, like fried and processed foods, as these contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Monitor Sodium Intake: Keep salt, added sugars, salt, and red meat consumption in check to lower the risk of high blood pressure.
- Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels: Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall heart health.
Support and Resources for Heart Health Beyond Heart Month
This February, Go Red to raise funds for lifesaving research into the prevention and treatment of heart and circulatory conditions. And remember that maintaining heart-healthy habits year-round is essential to your cardiovascular well-being. Take action and implement some of the above health tips into your everyday habits to help reduce the risk of heart disease and its risk factors.
Call or Text Medical House Calls Today
Medical House Calls is an at-home urgent care concierge service serving counties within Middle Tennessee. We treat everything an urgent care clinic can and offer prevtntative healthcare options, all within the comfort and safety of our client’s homes. We strive to provide the best patient care, convenience, and confidentiality to each and every one of our clients.
To schedule an appointment for a house call, IV therapy, weight loss consultation, or to simply learn more about heart health practices, call or text us at 615-838-2375 today!