Heart Health—A New Urgency

February is National Heart Month.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States.  But emphasis on keeping this vital organ healthy takes on new importance for Baby Boomers and older adults in 2021:  having heart failure puts people at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.

In addition, according to the CDC (December 2020), “having other cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or stroke, might increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Fortunately, your heart is one of the organs that responds well to lifestyle choices—both food and exercise.

Heart Basics

“Heart disease” is a category of disorders involving the heart and blood vessels (coronary heart disease, or CHD, and stroke). CHD develops over time, with a narrowing or blockage of heart blood vessels caused by a build-up of plaque (fat and cholesterol). Think of muck gradually accumulating inside a hose, and eventually bursting and blocking the flow of water. This is what happens to blood vessels leading to the heart—eventually they don’t allow enough oxygen-rich blood to nourish this vital organ. The result can be a heart attack.

Several risk factors exist for heart disease. Those you cannot modify include:

  • age (the majority of people who die from heart disease are 65 and older)
  • gender (men still have a greater risk of heart disease than women)
  • genetics (a family history of heart disease increases the risk, as does being African American, Mexican American, American Indian, or Native Hawaiian)

Fortunately, some risk factors can be controlled

What You Can Do

1) Eat better. Increase your consumption foods containing soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol: fruits (bananas, apples, oranges, peaches, and berries), vegetables (Brussel sprouts and turnips), whole grains (oatmeal), and dried beans. Eat more healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil) and fish, while cutting down on sodium (salt), overall fat intake (especially saturated and trans fats), high-fat meats (including processed/cured meats), high-fat dairy products, and sugar. These food modifications will help control the following four risk factors.

2) Control cholesterol. Cholesterol is a natural substance our bodies manufacture that’s vital for its proper functioning. But high levels of one type of cholesterol, LDL, can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack. Diet and exercise affect LDL levels.

3) Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure causes excess strain and damage to coronary arteries, which can lead to a build up of plaque and, eventually, a heart attack.

4) Reduce blood sugar. Heart disease death rates among adults with diabetes are two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.  (Note:  Having diabetes also increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness.)

5) Maintain a healthy weight. A drop in weight of only 5-10 percent will decrease your overall risk for heart disease.  (Note:  Having obesity increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.)

6) Get active. Exercising thirty minutes most days of the week will boost heart-health. Be sure to maintain social distance and wear a mask when appropriate.

7) Stop smoking. Chemicals in smoke can damage heart tissue and blood vessels. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease approximates that of non-smokers within five years.  (Note:  Being a current or former cigarette smoker increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.)

And with COVID-19 in mind:

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed, especially those for heart failure, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. 
  • Keep at least a 30-day supply of these medicines on hand.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your condition or feel sick.
  • Do not delay life-saving treatment or emergency care.

For additional heart-healthy lifestyle ideas, reach out to me!

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