February is American Heart Month and in 2021, heart health is more important than ever. While the past year has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that heart disease remains one of the top health threats to people worldwide and is a leading cause of death. It is estimated that in the US alone 1.5 million people will suffer a heart attack or stroke and over 665,000 people will die each year from heart disease. Also, people who suffer from heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy, are at an increased risk of severe illness if they contact Covid-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic when people began spending more time at home there has been an increase in some unhealthy habits that put heart health at risk such as eating poorly, drinking more alcohol, and decreased physical activity. Other risk factors that increase your chances of developing heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity or overweight, and smoking.
There are many things that can be done to improve heart health. Most can be done from the comfort of our homes.
- Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Not only does sleep rejuvenate the body, being well-rested helps you better cope with the stresses of everyday life and helps resist some of the other unhealthy habits we encounter.
- Eat a healthy diet. This can start with just a few changes. Plan a weekly menu. People often eat better if they know ahead of time what they are going to prepare. Cut out or reduce your consumption of processed or fast foods, refined sugars, and sweetened beverages.
- Limit snacking. Premeasure healthy snacks. Prepare bags with a portion-controlled serving of your favorite heart-healthy snack. If you work remotely, don’t eat where you work. Take your snack break in another room and enjoy your snack. Snack purposely. Increased calories are often consumed when people mindlessly snack.
- Be physically active. There are many easy and inexpensive ways to help get your heart rate up at home. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity of activity per week. Do some old-fashioned calisthenics. Jumping jacks can easily raise your heart rate. Invest in a jump rope. Don’t forget lunges, crunches, and squats. Many “how-to” exercise videos are available online for reference.
- Quit smoking. Smoking damages the blood vessels and is linked to heart disease.
- Limit alcohol consumption. People who binge drink or drink excessive amounts of alcohol on a consistent basis are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, and cardiomyopathy. It may also lead to premature aging of the arteries over time.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight directly affects the stress on the heart. It also predisposes people to other diseases that can damage the heart such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
To further maximize your heart health, it is important to know your personal health and family risk factors.
- Know your family history. A family history of coronary artery disease increases your own risk of heart disease.
- Know your own health. Get a yearly physical and know your numbers. Ask your healthcare provider to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and screen for diabetes. Take all medications as prescribed especially if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Follow up with your healthcare provider as recommended to stay on top of your health.
- Don’t ignore signs of a potential heart attack or stroke! If you believe you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of a heart attack or stroke call 911. Seek immediate help to avoid suffering potentially irreparable damage to your heart or the loss of your life!
Remember that your heart is central to your wellbeing. It affects every part of your body. Take care of your heart so it can take care of you!