It's a sobering fact that gets to the heart of the matter: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, heart disease remains the leading cause of death and disability for American women and men.
Some risk factors for heart disease can't be changed—such as getting older or having a family history of heart problems. But you can control many factors that put you at risk by making small changes in your daily life.
First, “know your numbers,” including your cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure. And be proactive in achieving optimal values.
Optimal values are:
- LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol) less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol) greater than or equal to 50 mg/dL
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL
- BP less than or equal to 120/80
- Fasting glucose less than 100 mg/dL
Changes you can make today
Here are some tips to help you get to these numbers:
1. Exercise regularly. Try for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or more vigorous exercise every day. Take a 10-minute walking break. If you sit behind a computer most of the time, get up for a quick stroll several times a day. Sitting less and moving more is good for your heart and your body overall
2. Eat a healthful diet that is built around whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Avoid unhealthy snacks. Bring a piece of fruit to work. Eating more fruits (and veggies) is a heart-healthy choice. Plus, many fruits are portable (think apples and oranges), which makes them an easy snack option. When hunger hits, having a piece of fruit at your work area will help you avoid less-healthy options from the vending machine. Compare food labels for sodium content. Too much sodium can increase your blood pressure, which is hard on your heart. Different brands of foods can have different sodium amounts. It only takes a moment to read food labels and to choose the brand with the least amount of sodium.
3. If you smoke, quit. During the year after you quit, your risk of heart disease will drop by more than half. If you need help to quit smoking, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor and discuss your different options/strategies.
4. Ask your doctor to help you keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol. Try to keep them in a healthy range.
5. Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, even a modest weight loss can reduce your risk for developing heart disease.
Be in the know. If you haven't already, bring up heart health with your doctor. Discuss your risk factors and what you can do. Remember, the only way to know your numbers (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, glucose levels) is by checking them on a regular basis.
Diana Rinkevich, MD, is board-certified in cardiovascular disease and echocardiography. She has more than 30 years of experience and is recognized as a leader in women’s heart health and echocardiography. She is the medical director of the CMH/OHSU Cardiology Clinic.