Heart Health for Life

HARLINGEN — Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen has been celebrating the American Heart Association’s “Heart Month” with a variety of screenings and educational events during February. Now that it is coming to a close, it is a good time to take stock of some basic advice to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Do you know someone who has heart disease? Chances are you do. More than 26 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition. If you don’t want to join this group, you can take steps to reduce your personal risk of heart disease.

Eat healthy. A healthy diet includes a variety of grains (especially whole grains), fruits and vegetables. Opt for foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugar and salt. Choose fish, poultry and lean cuts of meat, as well as low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit the number of egg yolks and cut down on processed cold cuts. When preparing food, broil, bake, roast or poach instead of frying, and tame snack attacks with low-fat options, such as animal crackers or fat-free yogurt.

Exercise regularly. As little as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week is all you need to protect heart health.

Don’t like to exercise? No sweat. Good ways to keep your heart healthy include brisk walking, riding a bike, hiking, dancing, swimming, physical tasks around the house, raking leaves, or painting a room. Other ways to work exercise into your day include taking the stairs when possible, or parking farther away from the office and then walking the added distance.

Don’t smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is “the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.” Compared to nonsmokers, smokers are at an increased risk of heart disease due to the buildup of plaque in their coronary arteries over time. Quitting smoking can lower the risk of heart disease – and just one year of not smoking may cut heart disease risk in half.

Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight can be calculated by looking at either body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference. BMI, a calculation based on height and weight, of 25 to 29.9 is

considered overweight, and 30 or higher is obese.

A waist measurement of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other serious health conditions.

A weight loss of just five to 10 percent of current weight can help lower the risk for heart disease. Gradual weight loss of one-half to two pounds per week is recommended to ensure long-term success.

In addition to making lifestyle changes, you should also have blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis.

Hypertension of 140/90 mmHg or higher is a major risk factor for heart disease that usually does not cause symptoms.

Total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL and above is an indication of too much cholesterol that can eventually accumulate on artery walls, making them narrow and impeding blood flow to the heart. It is important to remember that regardless of your age or current state of health, it is never too late to take steps to protect your heart.

“Heart Month” may be almost over, but it is always the right time to pay attention to the health of your heart.

For more information about heart health, talk with your doctor or call 1-866-608-2273 for a free referral to a physician or cardiologist near you. We also encourage you to visit our Valley Baptist Cardiac Care Library at http://www.valleybaptist.net/medical-services/cardiovascular/health-library, and to take our Cardiac Risk Assessment at www.valleybaptist.net/healthyhearts.