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February is American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day is an ideal time to acknowledge the importance of cardiovascular health.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be that way. While you can’t alter your genetic makeup, it’s possible to make lifestyle choices and change behaviors to help reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
To promote heart health, evaluate your risk factors. What do you eat? Do you have an exercise routine? Do you get enough sleep? Do you smoke, drink heavily or have difficulty managing stress?
If you decide to modify your diet, ask a medical professional for guidance. Experts recommend gradually introducing recommended foods and reducing intake of foods you know aren’t particularly good for you. U.S. dietary guidelines call for:
A healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, alcohol and sodium. Foods high in sodium can cause your body to retain water and make your cardiovascular system work harder.
People of all ages are encouraged to meet Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to improve their fitness and resilience. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) a week of physical activity that gets your heart pumping and leaves you a little breathless. Even short bursts of exercise and frequent walking can have lasting benefits.
Studies show that stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, socializing with friends and engaging in hobbies helps lower blood pressure, improve mood and reduce chronic disease risk.
If you smoke cigarettes, consider ways to quit. Not smoking lowers risk for heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases. Many local organizations and employers offer smoking cessation programs.
A heart attack occurs when an artery is blocked by a blood clot or plaque that builds up over time. A stroke occurs when blood and oxygen supply is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. An emergency response is required.
Signs of a heart attack include:
Signs of stroke include:
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an indicator of the force of blood pushing against arterial walls. Hypertension hardens arteries, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Certain medical conditions or medications may increase your blood pressure.
To understand your blood pressure:
Refer to the American Heart Association for blood pressure ranges and other American Heart Month resources.
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