Listen to your heart, lower your risk
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Written by By Lauren Glendenning, Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Heart-shaped chocolates and romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day might prevent heartbreak, but physical activity and a healthy diet are two of the most important factors in preventing hearts from breaking down.
Sixty nine percent of all adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. Varying data puts the U.S. obesity rate at about 33 to 35 percent, with Colorado clocking in at about 20 percent, the lowest in the nation.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and the risk factors don’t stop at obesity.
“We know that heart disease becomes more common as we get older, so age is a significant risk factor but one over which we have no control,” said Dr. Carol Venable, Internal Medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Offices. “Tobacco use, cocaine use, obesity, lack of physical activity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and family history of heart disease are all additional risk factors.”
Heart disease can often be silent in that the first symptoms are the heart attack or stroke. However, there are signs that can show up earlier such as chest pain, particularly pain that is worse with physical exertion, shortness of breath and decreased exercise capacity, she said. Patients can also suffer from jaw pain, arm pain, nausea and vomiting — all of which can signal heart disease.
Venable said it’s important for people to get periodic checks of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, particularly those with risk factors for heart disease.
Move your body
Anyone who’s not getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous activity 3 to 4 days a week along with at least 2 days of moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity, isn’t getting enough exercise, according to the American Heart Association.
And for those who haven’t been following such healthy habits, it’s never too late to turn things around. Aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming or biking benefit the heart, while strength and stretching exercises are best for overall stamina and flexibility, according to the American Heart Association.
Venable said recommendations for someone who has just had a heart attack might include cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, which is essentially controlled exercise that is supervised by a medical professional.
“Exercise regimens need to be convenient, economical, and, ideally, enjoyable in order to be associated with patient compliance,” she said. “I would rather someone start walking 10 minutes daily and do this every day than that person start trying to run 5 miles a day and give up after only a few sessions.”
A heart-healthy diet includes:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
- Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
* Source: The American Heart Association
How much exercise is enough?
The American Heart Association offers the following guidelines on heart-healthy exercise:
- At least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity).
- Thirty minutes a day, five times a week, is an easy goal to remember.
- You can also get cardio benefits from breaking up your workouts into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.
- For those with high cholesterol or blood pressure, the recommendation is 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio exercise three to four times per week.
- Something is always better than nothing. Work toward the above goals over time if you can’t do them right away.
- A simple way to improve heart health is to start walking regularly.
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