Happy Valentine’s Day! Mary and I have just gotten back from a wonderful trip to the Highlands of Scotland. Although this year’s been full of trips to visit Kate, Andy and Rowan in Chicago, I thought we’d do well to have some time alone. Winter in a Scottish castle … what’s more romantic than that?
Valentine’s Day, which occurs during American Heart Month, should be a reminder to show your own heart some respect.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. Here are 10 ways to love your heart.
1. Eat heart-healthy foods
Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods that contain healthy fats like avocado, salmon and nuts are a great way to treat your heart right. Minimize processed foods and eat fresh whenever possible.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many other diseases. One way to determine if you are overweight or obese is to calculate your body mass index.
Your BMI is an estimate of your body fat, calculated using your height and weight. A BMI from 25-29.9 is considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Your BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass, which can skew measurements. Talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy weight. Online calculators are easy to find, just search “BMI calculator.”
3. Get an annual physical
Getting yearly check-ups gives you a good shot at preventing diseases or catching health problems early when treatment is most successful. An annual physical is the time to get screenings and tests based on your age, gender and family history.
Check for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, abnormal glucose (sugar) levels, record your weight and discuss things like diet and exercise.
4. Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
High blood pressure and cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart disease. It’s vital to know these numbers and follow your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Check cholesterol at least every five years with a blood test. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor will develop a plan to lower and monitor it.
You’ll likely have your blood pressure checked each time you visit the doctor. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will work with you to determine how to treat it.
5. Get enough exercise
Walk, run, bike, swim, hike … increase your heart rate to some your ticker love and lower your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week— just 30 minutes five days a week; but any is better than none.
6. Stop smoking
It’s a fact. Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the U.S. Smoking lowers your good cholesterol and increases your risk for blood clots, heart disease and stroke. Smoking causes cancer.
Quitting smoking is difficult but well worth the effort to keep your heart healthy and prevent a myriad of other diseases. Get whatever help you need to quit.
7. Limit alcohol
The best way to keep your heart healthy is to limit alcohol intake. If you don’t drink, it’s best not to start; if you do, take it easy.
There’s no doubt that regular excessive drinking can lead to weakening of the heart, increase your blood pressure and even cause an irregular heartbeat.
8. Aim for 7 hours of sleep
The better you sleep, the better off your heart will be. A study by the American Heart Association showed a poor night’s sleep was linked with an increased risk of heart disease.
Getting enough sleep will increase your productivity and give you more energy throughout the day.
Most adults should aim for about seven hours of sleep each night to feel well rested and to keep hearts healthy.
Take time to relax and relieve stress. Prolonged stress can raise your blood pressure. And when you’re stressed out, you might be more likely to bypass that workout, reach for a cigarette, eat comfort foods or drink.
10. Limit your sodium
Sodium lurks in foods you may not suspect like canned soup, spaghetti sauce and lunch meat. Having too much sodium in your diet can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. Read labels and keep your sodium intake below 2,300mg each day.
Enjoy the day. Take great care of your sweetheart, and great care of yourself.
Dr. Alfred Casale is chairman of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute, co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for the Geisinger Health System and Associate Chief Medical Officer of the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]