February is American Heart Month, which calls for national awareness and prevention of America’s number 1 killer: Heart disease. Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, is the cause of one out of every three deaths in the U.S. and the leading cause of illness and disability.
To have a healthier heart and reduce your risk of heart disease, incorporate these 6 tips into your lifestyle.
- Control your cholesterol. A simple blood test at the doctor’s office will tell you if you have high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. A total cholesterol level over 200 is considered high. Good cholesterol (HDL) should be over 40, and bad cholesterol (LDL) should be less than 160. Triglycerides should be less than 150. If your levels are high, ask your doctor about a diet and exercise strategy and about possible medications. Also, try to reduce the amount of cholesterol, saturated fat, and sugar you eat.
- Get a handle on high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is a common risk factor for heart disease. High blood pressure is typically characterized by the systolic (top) number being more than 120, and the diastolic (bottom) number being more than 80. A low-fat diet and regular exercise, as well as medication, can help you keep your blood pressure under control.
- If you smoke, stop. People who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack than non smokers. Many people who smoke may think it’s too late to stop. But in reality, when you stop smoking, blood pressure immediately decreases, circulation improves, and oxygen supply increases. It’s been reported that within one year of stopping smoking, the risk of heart disease decreases by 50%. If you smoke, take active measures to stop, even if it means using smoking cessation treatments.
- Exercise. You can also help prevent heart disease by exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight. At the YMCA you can get a personal wellness plan that will help you determine your healthy weight based on your BMI and age. The Y can also help you create and stick with an exercise plan that will help you achieve and maintain that weight. Doctors recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. While that can be done by “working out,” it can also be done by cleaning the house, walking the dog, or working in the yard. All activity counts. If you’re not active now, talk to your doctor before beginning any program.
- Control stress. While some stress can be healthy for protection and performance, too much stress can wreak havoc on your blood pressure. If you’re prone to getting stressed or angry, look for ways to control and reduce your stress. The good news is that the exercise you do to control your weight can also alleviate stress. Incorporate regular exercise, go for a walk, a take a few laps in the pool every day to look better and feel better.
- Manage diabetes. Finally, consult your doctor about your risk of diabetes and take active steps to prevent it or reverse it. An estimated 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, and many people do not even realize they’re at risk. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to artery disease, stroke, and other complications. The YMCA offers a Diabetes Prevention Program, which teaches people how to make healthy decisions about food and exercise, gives them everyday tools to reduce their risk, and provides motivation to stay on track.
During American Heart Month and year-round, having a strong heart can keep you healthy and save your life. To pursue healthy living of your spirit, mind, and body, join the YMCA for wellness plans, fitness classes and equipment, and a community of people who care.