Each February, American Heart Month aims to increase awareness of our country’s top killer: heart disease. In 2015, heart disease caused more than 23 percent of American deaths. Early medical intervention, lifestyle changes, and health education may have prevented many of these deaths. Take time this February to assess your risk factors and build a heart health plan.
Assess Your Heart Disease Risk
When it comes to your health literacy, ignorance isn’t bliss. Forty-seven percent of Americans have at least one heart disease risk factor, such as:
- Age (older individuals are more at risk)
- Family history and genetics
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Consuming foods high in fat, cholesterol, and salt
- Physical inactivity
- Alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
While genetics and age can play a part in heart health, you can improve your chances of avoiding (or surviving) a heart attack or other cardiac event with simple lifestyle changes. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), lifestyle changes might prevent more than 200,000 heart attack and stroke-related deaths each year.
Know the Warning Signs of Heart Disease
Heart disease covers a broad spectrum of physical conditions, including heart defects, abnormal heartbeats, and coronary artery disease. While the symptoms of heart disease can vary depending on personal circumstances, they might include
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and tightness
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Swelling in your legs, feet, or ankles
- Fainting spells
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your primary care physician right away.
Choose a Heart Healthy Diet
If your diet is heavy with salty, fatty, and high cholesterol foods, you run an increased risk of heart disease. While it can be difficult to break bad dietary habits, small changes might make a big positive impact on your overall health.
You should consider:
- Avoiding fast food and prepackaged convenience foods
- Experimenting with salt-free flavoring options
- Choosing lean, low-fat proteins
- Cutting your alcohol consumption (no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men)
- Opt for more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Control portion sizes
If you need help making diet changes, consult with a registered dietician within the Canopy Health alliance.
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Daily Routine
Exercise offers many benefits: It lowers your blood pressure, helps you maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar levels, and reduces stress. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends that you engage either 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. If you’re concerned about exercise safety — especially after a heart attack or other cardiac event — consult with a physician before starting a fitness program.
Stop Using Tobacco
Tobacco use negatively impacts your heart health in a variety of ways. Chemicals in tobacco increase your triglyceride levels, decrease your HDL (good cholesterol), encourage excessive blood clotting, and damage your blood vessels. Once you decide to quit using tobacco, your risk of coronary artery disease drops by 50% after one year.
Giving up tobacco isn’t easy, but you can (and should) seek medical assistance when you’re ready to quit. Your health plan may fully or partially cover most doctor-prescribed tobacco cessation aids (such as counseling and medications).
Partner with Experienced Heart Health Specialists
Heart health awareness and lifestyle changes are important parts of your heart health plan, but you should also seek appropriate medical care. Your heart health team might include your primary care physician, cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, pulmonologists, dieticians, and cardiac rehabilitation therapists. Regular medical treatment might help you identify and control medical conditions that increase your risk for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Canopy Health and Your Heart Health
Canopy Health values our members’ heart health. Our alliance of nearly 5,000 physicians, outpatient facilities, and hospitals includes some of the Bay Area’s preeminent cardiologists and heart specialists. UCSF’s cardiology and heart surgery programs are national recognized by U.S. News and World Report, and St. Mary’s Medical Center helped pioneer less invasive bypass surgeries and houses the country’s first digital cardiac catheterization lab.
Deaths, percent of total deaths, and death rates for the 15 leading causes of death in 5-year age groups, by race and sex: United States, 2015 (2017, September 29). Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/LCWK1_2015.pdf
Fryar, C. (2012, August). Prevalence of uncontrolled risk factors for cardiovascular disease: United States, 1999–2010. National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db103.htm
Preventable deaths from heart disease & stroke (2013, September). CDC VitalSigns. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heartdisease-stroke/index.html
Fact sheet about health benefits of smoking cessation. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/tobacco/quitting/benefits/en/