As we mark American Heart Month this February, what better time to stop and do a heart checkup on habits, lifestyle and matters of the heart. In our daily quest to manage stress, exercise, eat well- and other priorities of the day - I want to take a moment to emphasize why all of these actions matter in the long run, that is, for your heart health.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women - causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That's about one each minute. To help you on the road to heart health, I have compiled a checklist:
- Schedule your annual physical - Having a yearly appointment with your primary care physician (PCP) for a physical exam can detect certain diseases early on. Typically, the PCP will look at your blood pressure, heart rhythms, vision, hearing, and others areas. The blood work drawn measures cholesterol, blood sugar, and others. Your physician may also ask about your emotional well-being because symptoms of depression or anxiety can take a toll on your heart.
- Know your numbers -- This oft-used term describes the key indicators of your cardiovascular health. The numbers you need to know and the ideal measurements are:
- Blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg
- Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl
- LDL - "Bad" cholesterol less than 100 mg/dl
- HDL - "Good" cholesterol more than 50 mg/dl
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl
- Blood glucose less than 100 mg/dl
- Body mass index (BMI) between 18.5-24.9 kg/m2
- Waist circumference less than 35 inches
- Quit smoking - If you have never smoked or quit smoking more than a year ago, you have already reduced your risk for cardiovascular disease by 50 percent. If you want to quit smoking, help is available. Smoking cessation counselors, nicotine replacement or drug therapy, and support groups help many kick the habit for good.
- Exercise - The optimal workout to improve your heart health amounts to 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. Another way to say it is exercise 30 minutes a day, which can even be broken up into 10 minute increments. Simple steps add up in time.
- Stock up on healthy foods - A heart-healthy diet consists of many fruits and vegetables, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, and fish. Consume fish at least twice a week, preferably oily fish such as salmon, or talk to your healthcare provider about taking omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplements. Pregnant women should avoid fish with high mercury levels.
- Limit or throw out the junk foods - Junk or processed foods tend to be high in sugar and sodium. Your sodium intake should be less than 1500 mg a day. Avoid foods with trans-fatty acids or strive to eat very little of them. (Transfats are found in meat, cheese and butter). Try to eat less than 150 mg of cholesterol a day and drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day.
- React quickly to heart attack symptoms - As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, including:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you have any of these signs, don't wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital right away.
Power of Prevention
With all the advances in heart care and more emphasis on prevention, lowering the staggering statistics of heart disease is achievable. Main Line Health is proud to join the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign in the fight against heart disease. Join me and the rest of the MLH team in living a heart healthy lifestyle!