By Hunt Anderson, M.D.
February is American Heart Month, but taking care of your heart is something you should prioritize year-round. A strong heart is essential to vitality; taking it for granted can be deadly. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease accounts for one out of every three deaths in the United States. To put that into perspective, a person in this country dies of heart disease every 38 seconds.
Much like the national statistics, Georgia’s own numbers on cardiovascular disease are grim. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, heart disease is responsible for 20,000 deaths a year. In addition, Georgia Health News recently cited a report that nearly one in five young Georgians (ages 10 to 17) is obese, as well as recent findings by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that this grows to one in three adults being obese. This extra body weight can significantly increase the risk for heart failure, heart disease, and stroke.
In Georgia and beyond, taking care of one’s heart is a serious matter. While some are predisposed to heart conditions based on family history, making healthy choices is important in battling heart disease and other cardiovascular illnesses. Diet, exercise, scheduling regular checkups, and finding ways to manage stress are factors we can — and should — aim to improve and maintain, no matter what genetic factors may be at play. Here is what you can do:
Establish and stick with a smart and sensible diet.
The well-being of the circulatory system and heart is very dependent on foods that promote proper heart function. Eating healthier foods can make a big difference. Controlling portion size, staying well hydrated, limiting unhealthy fats, and consuming lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Nutritionists recommend choosing options such as fish, eggs, and dairy to get your protein. Reducing sodium intake to below 2,300 milligrams per day – about a teaspoon of salt – is also important.
Get the right amount of exercise.
With discipline, we can keep our hearts successfully pumping oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. True to its name, cardiovascular exercise is beneficial to the cardiovascular system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, which can be broken into 10-minute blocks, if needed.
Schedule regular checkups.
Some individuals wait until something is wrong with their health before seeing a doctor, but the adage is true: Early detection is crucial. Doctors use measurements like body weight and blood pressure, as well as conducting cardiovascular screenings during routine appointments, to help make recommendations about heart health. If you’re older than 20, get your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index checked.
The American Heart Association recommends trying “stress-busting” activities such as creating art, reading a book, listening to music, or going for a walk, in addition to “stress-stoppers” like counting to 10 before reacting, meditating, and more. Similar to maintaining a healthy diet and exercising, attempt to make managing stress part of your daily routine.
Know your family history.
Heart trouble (including high blood pressure), heart disease, and other related issues can be passed from one generation to the next. If your parents or grandparents have experienced a stroke, heart disease, or a heart attack, it’s important to tell your doctor, who may recommend further testing. If heart disease is part of your family history, it’s even more essential to live a healthy lifestyle that incorporates proper diet, physical activity, and stress relief.
While American Heart Month is a great reminder to take care of the body’s most important organ, we should aim to keep it a priority year-round. Statistics from the American Heart Association paint a daunting picture for those who ignore symptoms and choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle. The good news? By eating better, exercising more, scheduling checkups, managing stress, and learning family history, you can soon be on the road to better heart health.
Dr. Hunt Anderson is currently in practice with WellStar Medical Group Cardiovascular Medicine.
4500 Hospital Boulevard, Suite 230, Roswell. 770-410-4520. WellStar.org