February is designated as American Heart Month. With this in mind, let’s review just how important it is to take steps that allow you to keep your heart healthy and functioning at an optimal level for years to come. Heart health is dependent on a variety of factors including our diet, genetic factors, and activity level. If you have a family history of heart disease it is even more important to pay attention to the risk factors that can negatively affect your heart health.
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS: Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
If you don’t already, you should visit your primary care physician each year for an overall health physical. During the physical, your physician will check for things like resting heart rate and blood pressure. Your resting heart rate is one indicator of how strong our heart is. While other factors can affect our resting heart rate, you should have a rate between 60-100 beats per minute. A heart rate lower than 60 or higher than 100 indicates that there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
The next indicator to keep an eye on is your blood pressure. Your blood pressure is the pressure that is put on your artery walls as blood is pumped through the body. Your arteries are the vessels that carry blood away from the heart and out to the rest of the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Your blood pressure should read at or below 120/80. The first number represents the pressure on the artery walls when the heart is contracted, or actively pumping the blood out. The second number represents the pressure on the artery walls when the heart is not actively pumping, or what happens in between the “beats” of the heart. It is important to keep your blood pressure at or near 120/80 as that is the optimal pressure for a healthy heart. Should you find that your blood pressure consistently is above those numbers through self-checks, it is time to have a conversation with your doctor. Bring evidence to your doctor that you’ve been tracking your heart rate and your blood pressure with dates and times that you’ve tracked your numbers. This will start a conversation with your doctor and equip them to better solve your health concern.
Another number to consider is your cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a substance that your either body creates, or is developed in your system from the food you consume. When cholesterol is present, it can attach to the artery walls. Having artery walls that with cholesterol deposits on them not only constricts those vessels (and can raise your blood pressure) but is also makes the arteries less flexible and responsive to changes in your blood pressure. Not all cholesterol is “bad.” There are two types of cholesterol. The “bad” cholesterol is called LDL, or low-density lipoprotein. LDL is the cholesterol that can deposit on the artery walls, causing them to narrow and harden.
The “good” cholesterol is called HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. HDL is the type of cholesterol that seeks out the “bad” cholesterol and removes it from your body. Triglycerides are another factor to consider when looking at your cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood that your body uses for energy. Triglyceride levels are affected by diet, physical inactivity, and other factors like smoking. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Your health care team can do a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels.
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
While these are just a few of the terms and numbers to be aware of to take care of your heart, it is important to incorporate a heart healthy diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and to maintain an active lifestyle.
Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar — can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease. A BMI of less than 25 and a waist circumference of 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) or less is the goal for preventing and treating heart disease.
Move. Exercise helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure — all risk factors for heart disease. If you have a heart arrhythmia or heart defect, there may be some restrictions on the activities you can do, so talk to your doctor.
With your doctor’s OK, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
The Greater Naples YMCA can help keep your spirit, mind, and body healthy through an active lifestyle.
Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:
• Chest pain • Shortness of breath • Fainting
Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns about your heart health. If you’re concerned about developing heart disease, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.
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