Attention turns to heart health in February

By Dr. Uma Krishnan

For The Courier-Herald

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. But you can take steps to keep your heart as healthy as possible with some simple tips. Share this information with your loved ones this month. It might be one of the best Valentine’s gift they get.

Exercise. It’s hard to find time to make it to the gym or walk around the neighborhood after dinner. You’ve got kids, a job, meetings or other obligations. But it’s worth it in the long run. It reduces stress, gives you more energy and it’s good for your heart. By exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

The American Hearth Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Exercise can be any physical activity that makes you move your body and burns calories, such as climbing stairs or playing sports. Aerobic exercises, which include walking, jogging, swimming or biking, strengthen your heart. Strength and stretching exercises are best for overall stamina and flexibility.

Eat well. This doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorite treats. Instead, eat them sparingly. Your diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods that contain fiber, and fish. Adding in more fruits and vegetables can help you control your weight and your blood pressure.

The AHA recommends cutting back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Stop smoking. This is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. It also causes other health problems that you don’t want.

People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. And here’s why: The nicotine in cigarettes decreases oxygen to the heart, increases blood pressure and heart rate, increases blood clotting and damages cells that line the coronary arteries and other blood vessels.

Quitting is hard. During the quitting process, sometimes people slip and have a cigarette. It’s important not to feel like you failed at quitting, and understand that you just give it another chance. If you need more support, look for quit-smoking programs through hospitals. Washington offers Quit Line, a free hotline for phone counseling and support, quit plans, tips and tools. Medicaid provides free cessation medications, nicotine products and counseling through the Quit Line. Call: 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669), Spanish: 877-NO-FUME, TTY: 877-777-6534 or visit

And parents, talk to your kids and teens about smoking. Once they start, it can be hard for them to stop, even if they haven’t been smoking very long.

Maintain a healthy weight. Weight gain in adulthood usually comes in the form of fat rather than muscle. And excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease. That includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

How do you know your healthy weight? Talk to your doctor. You also can figure out your body mass index using your height and weight. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides an online calculator at its Web site:

To calculate your BMI value yourself, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide again by your height in inches.

Waist circumference is also a useful tool to measure abdominal fat. In general, men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is more than 40 inches. And women, in general, are overweight if their waist measurement is more than 35 inches, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. When coming up with a fitness and nutrition plan to lose weight, it’s crucial to understand your recommended calorie intake. Then evaluate the amount of food calories you’re consuming verses the energy calories you’re burning off with different levels of physical activity. It’s a matter of balancing healthy eating (caloric energy) with the (molecular) energy that leaves your body through a healthy level of exercise.

See your doctor. Checking in with your health care provider on a regular basis gives you an independent assessment of your health. Your provider can check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other indicators. You may find out that you need to make some changes in your life that will make you healthier.

Heart disease is often avoidable. With your health care provider, you can make good decisions about diet and exercise. Following these steps may help keep your heart healthy longer.

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