Do more for your heart than celebrating Valentine’s Day
Hani Salti, M.D., cardiologist NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Updated: February 14, 2013 11:14AM
The leading cause of death in the United States is cardiovascular disease. February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to take steps toward a heart healthy life.
First and foremost, exercise is critical. Your heart is just like any other muscle; the more you use it, the more efficient it becomes. Regular exercise has enormous cardiovascular benefits.
However, according to the American Heart Association, only about 21 percent of adults meet the federal guidelines for physical activity.
You can see improvement in a person’s heart health in just a few weeks after adopting even a light-to-moderate exercise program. You also will see improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, which all help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Quitting smoking is a no-brainer. There is a direct link between smoking and heart disease, as well as increasing risk for other conditions like stroke and cancer. A smoker’s risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times higher than a non-smoker’s risk.
A healthy diet is another important strategy for a healthy heart. Unfortunately, our nation’s diet and eating habits have contributed to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Good habits involve staying away from saturated fats, eating more healthy nuts and vegetables, incorporating fish oils and paying attention to portion size.
Just focusing on eating slowly and mindfully would be beneficial. That way, your system registers that you’ve eaten. There is no need to dig into a second helping when the brain has not even realized that you’ve had your first.
While stress affects everyone differently, we do know that managing stress is another way to help maintain a healthy heart. We are all so busy working long hours and multi-tasking. Yet we would all be more productive and healthier if we took some time out of each day to focus on ourselves and reduce stress.
Another key factor in heart disease is genetics, and while you cannot change your genetics, you should be aware of them and change other risk factors accordingly. If heart disease runs in your family, it is all the more important to pay close attention to diet, cholesterol and blood pressure and confer with your physician about ways to improve your personal risk factors.
Salti is a cardiologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem.