7 Steps To A Healthier Heart

Are there things you can be doing to have a healthier heart? This question is probably one you don’t think of on a daily basis, but it’s an important one to consider. When something happens such as a heart attack, stroke, or even just chest pains, and you find yourself having chest x-rays and ultrasounds and other diagnostic imaging tests to determine what’s happening, odds are every decision you’ve made will be running through your mind. 

Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. How we treat our bodies might not regularly be top of mind. However, if we pre-emptively take action before something goes wrong, perhaps we could all enjoy a better quality of life. With that in mind, below are seven simple steps to a healthier heart that you can start working on today.

1. Avoid Smoking

If you are already living a smoke-free life, you’re ahead of the game. Well done! On the other hand, if you are a smoker, you’re putting your heart in danger. Most people associate the lungs with complications from smoking, but the reality is smoking can cause devastating damage to your heart as well. In fact, as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains, “Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs.”

Risk factors from smoking include heart disease, chest pains, heart attack, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, damaged heart tissue, and heart failure. To make matters worse, you don’t even have to be the one smoking to be adversely affected. Secondhand smoke can significantly raise the risk of these and other heart-related issues for children and teens, and especially for children with pre-existing conditions such as respiratory distress syndrome (most common in newborns) or asthma.

2. Move Your Body

Physically active people enjoy healthier hearts more than inactive people do. Not only does it help you control your cholesterol and blood sugar, aerobic exercise improves your circulation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity and two days of strength training each week for adults. 

3. Improve Your Diet

What you eat and drink can have a direct impact on your heart health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats can reduce your risk of a number of heart issues. 

When it comes to diet you should also moderate your alcohol and caffeine intake. As Harvard Medical School says, “High doses of caffeine can temporarily raise your heart rate and blood pressure, which may pose dangers for some people with heart disease.” The American Heart Association (AHA) states that excessive drinking can increase the risk of cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death from alcohol poisoning. 

4. Get to a Healthy Weight

Starting today you can begin moving your body more, and improve your diet. Continuing to do so will eventually get your body to a healthy weight which can reduce your risk of heart disease. 

What is a healthy weight? The CDC states, “If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the normal or Healthy Weight range.” A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese. You can calculate your BMI for free with this calculator from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

5. Maintain Healthy Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Blood Sugar 

When your levels are not managed properly, your body is at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and a whole host of other health issues. Your blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mm Hg to be considered normal according to the AHA. The first number is your systolic blood pressure and “it indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.” The second number is your diastolic blood pressure, and it “indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.”

The CDC says that your target blood sugar levels should be 80 to 130 mg/dl before a meal, and less than 180 mg/dl two hours after the start of the meal. Finally, your total cholesterol should be less than 170mg/dL to be at a healthy level according to the National Library of Medicine.

6. Lower Your Stress Levels

The University of Rochester Medical Center said, “stress can increase your risk for heart disease.” They went onto explain that “Your body’s response to stress is supposed to protect you. But, if it’s constant, it can harm you.” 

When you are overly stressed, the hormone cortisol continues to be released. As the levels of cortisol increase, it can increase the common risk factors for heart disease such as increased blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. 

Exercise is considered one of the best ways to lower stress levels. However, meditation, journaling, and getting enough rest are also helpful ways to diminish stress. 

7. Practice Good Hygiene 

While this step may seem out of place in an article about heart health, the reality is that when we don’t wash our hands and keep our bodies clean, we risk contracting infections such as the flu or pneumonia which can be very hard on your heart. Believe it or not, brushing and flossing can also have an impact on your heart health. According to the AHA, poor oral hygiene has been linked to higher risks for cardiovascular disease and heart valve infections as well. Bottom line – brush your teeth and wash your hands to increase your chances of keeping your heart healthy.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have a Heart Condition

If you believe you already have a heart condition or issue, the first thing you’ll want to do is schedule an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP). Explain any and all symptoms you are currently experiencing. From there, your PCP may order a blood test to check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They will likely give you a blood pressure test at your initial appointment to test those levels as well. Depending on your initial appointment, your PCP may order diagnostic imaging tests such as a chest x-ray, an echocardiogram (which is an ultrasound of your heart), or even an MRI to produce detailed images of your heart.  

Don’t wait. If you suspect you have a heart problem it’s best to tell your doctor sooner rather than later. While in some cases pains you may be feeling could be a simple case of heartburn due to a spicy meal or high-stress levels, prolonged symptoms and severe pains should not be ignored. 

Should you need diagnostic imaging tests, schedule your appointment with us or contact our friendly staff for more information!

Posted in: Health & Wellness

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