CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa. (Feb. 22, 2013) -- February is Heart Health Month. Kicking off the month is the 10th anniversary of “Go Red for Women” on February 1. The goal of the annual awareness campaign is to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans. Heart disease is typically thought of as a threat for men more than women, but the truth is heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men.
You can decrease your risk of heart disease with the choices that you make every day. Smoking, high blood pressure, inactivity, high cholesterol, overweight/obesity and diabetes increase your risk. Other contributing factors include stress, poor nutrition and excessive alcohol. Although age, gender and heredity/race put you at risk, focusing on factors that are modifiable can have a dramatic impact.
Making even a single lifestyle improvement can impact many risk factors. Exercise may improve weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. If you manage your stress you may be able to quit smoking, make better nutritional choices, and reduce your blood pressure. Even if you have a family history of heart disease, it doesn’t mean you are destined to develop the disease. Making as many healthy choices as possible will help reduce your risk.
Being aware of important numbers is also important for a healthy heart. An easy way to differentiate between the good and the bad cholesterol is as follows; HDL is “heavenly” and you want it high, 60mg/dl or above is considered heart protective. LDL is the “lousy” cholesterol and you want it low, ideally less than 100 mg/dl. Lastly, triglycerides should be less than 100 mg/dl. Checking with your Primary Care Manager is the best way to know when and how often you should have your values checked.
Blood pressure is another important number to know, with normal considered as 120/80 or below. Exercise and healthy food choices can help lower your blood pressure. Everyone knows that exercise is good for your heart. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise or a combination per week. If you are already exercising, great. If not, talk to your Primary Care Manager before starting any exercise program, especially if you are sedentary or have any health issues. When you get started be consistent and increase your time and intensity slowly to avoid injury and burnout. Remember any increase in your current physical activity is a “step” in the right direction. Exercising 30-60 minutes most days of the week can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm/Hg.
Did you know that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can lower your blood pressure by up to 14 mm/Hg? Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy while skimping on saturated fats and cholesterol can have additional health benefits beyond a lower blood pressure. Try to consume 5 or more fruits and vegetable servings per day from a wide variety of colors. Reducing sodium/salt in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. Make sure to read food labels for hidden sodium/salt.
Lastly, what about chocolate and alcohol? As is the case with most things, moderation is the key. An ounce of dark chocolate that has not been processed with alkali (check the label) a few times per week can be heart healthy. One drink per day for women and two for men is the recommendation. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of distilled spirits and you can’t “bank” them or carry them over from one day to the next.
It sounds simple but move more and be aware of your food choices for a healthy weight. Safe, sustainable weight loss is achieved by making choices that become part of how you live.
When you decide to make changes in your lifestyle, try to keep them realistic. Making small changes consistently over time has a higher likelihood of success. Write your goals down, look for support from a friend, family member or health coach. From phone apps to online tracking tools, technology from reputable sources offers a wide range of options to support your changes as well.
Your best defense for health is prevention and the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure is always the best path.
Cory Erhard, Carlisle Barracks Army Wellness Center