February is American Heart Month and February 1-7 is National Women’s Heart Week. And if you didn’t know, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S.
While you may not be able to change some of the risk factors you have (such as age, sex or family history), there are some things you can do to help prevent heart disease.
- Don’t use tobacco or smoke. These are the most significant risk factors for getting heart disease. The chemicals in tobacco can harm your blood vessels and heart, which leads to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). And this can eventually lead to a heart attack. Additionally, the nicotine in cigarette smoke causes your heart to work harder by narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
Fortunately, when you stop smoking, your risk for heart disease drops radically in only a year. And regardless of how long or how much you smoked, you’ll begin reaping the rewards as soon as you stop.
- Work out at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Exercising on a daily basis can lessen your risk of fatal heart disease. By combining this with other lifestyle actions, like keeping a healthy weight, the reward is even better. Physical activity helps you manage your weight and can lessen your chances of developing other conditions that might put a strain on your heart like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Additionally, it lessens stress, which might be a cause of heart disease.
With that said, try to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on most days of the week. Keep in mind that shorter amounts help, too, and activities like housekeeping, taking the stairs or walking the dog count toward your total.
- Get regular health screenings. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can harm your heart and blood vessels. However, if you don’t test for these conditions, you probably won’t know if you have them. Regular screeings can let you know your numbers and if you need to take action. You should have the following:
- Blood pressure. This screening begins in childhood, and adults should have one at least every two years. If your numbers are less than ideal, or you have additional risk factors, you might need more frequent checks. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
- Cholesterol levels. You should have this measured at least once every five years, beginning at 20-years-old. You might need more regular checks if your numbers are great, or you have other risk factors for heart disease.
- Diabetes screening. Diabetes is a risk factor in developing heart disease. And for that reason, you may want to think about being screened for diabetes. Speak with your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test to check for this condition.
For two more ways to prevent heart disease, check out my source, Heart disease prevention: 5 strategies to keep your heart healthy.