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Candy Hearts Aren't the Only Ones That Should Get Your Attention This Month: February Is National Heart Health Month

February 5, 2011

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. More than one quarter of all deaths are from heart disease, and heart disease is a leading cause of disability.

"In addition to the lives lost to heart disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that heart disease cost the United States approximately $316.4 billion in 2010. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity," says Beth Buckley, Clinical Operations practice leader at Quorum Health Resources (QHR). "Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do reduce your chances of developing heart disease."

The American Heart Association offers "The Simple 7" - seven simple steps you can take now to improve your heart health:

Get Active. Did you know that by exercising as few as 30 minutes per day, you can improve your heart health and quality of life? In fact, studies show that for every hour of walking, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours.

Eat Better. A healthy diet is one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. A healthy diet also emphasizes making smart choices from every food group and paying attention to portion sizes and overall caloric intake.

Lose Weight. Among Americans age 20 and older, 145 million are overweight or obese (BMI of 25.0 kg/m2 and higher). That's 76.9 million men and 68.1 million women. This is of great concern, because obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease. Not sure how to kick off your weight loss effort? Ask your general practitioner for guidance.

Control Cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol: "good" (HDL) and "bad" (LDL). It's important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of each in your blood. A total cholesterol level over 200, a "good" cholesterol level under 40, or a "bad" cholesterol level over 160 generally indicates an increased risk for heart disease. Don't know your numbers? Talk to a doctor about a cholesterol screening. Then, take steps to move your numbers in the right direction.

Manage Blood Pressure. Hypertension is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. One in three adults has high blood pressure, yet, about 21 percent don't know they have it. Of those with high blood pressure, 69 percent are receiving treatment, yet, only 45 percent have their blood pressure under control. "Because there are generally no symptoms associated with high blood pressure, it's important that you work with your doctor to monitor and control it, especially as you age," Dr. Emil Pollak, Cardiologist. "Key steps include maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following the treatment plan that your doctor prescribes."

Reduce Blood Sugar. Diabetes is considered one of the major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.

If you have diabetes, it's critical to monitor your blood sugar level and have regular check-ups. Work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your disease and control other risk factors.

Stop Smoking. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis - the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries - which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Controlling or reversing atherosclerosis is an important part of preventing future heart attack or stroke.

"It's also important to control stress and anger, which can put you at increased risk for heart attack or stroke," adds Pollak. "There are a number of stress and anger management techniques that can help, including breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, and eliminating as many environmental stressors as possible."

This article courtesy of Littleton Regional Hospital and Quorum Health Resources (QHR).

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