February is recognized as American Heart Month, a health observance that encourages Arizonans, and all Americans to focus on their cardiovascular health and understand the importance of adopting healthier behaviors that can decrease the risk of serious health outcomes, such as a heart attack or stroke.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

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By adopting healthier lifestyle habits, individuals can learn to incorporate small, but powerful, changes into their day-to-day routines that can help prevent heart disease.  The CDC states that living a healthier lifestyle can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels normal and lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack.

Dr. Michael Kleven is a primary care physician with Optum – Arizona.

Living a longer, healthier life starts with taking care of your heart. Here are six lifestyle habits that can be implemented today that may improve not only your heart health, but whole-body health.

1. Choose Healthy Foods and Drinks.  By choosing healthy meals and snacks, you may help prevent heart disease and heart complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and less processed foods. Eating foods high in fiber and low in saturated and trans fats can help prevent high cholesterol.  Since drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure, if you choose to drink, limit the amount of alcohol consumed to no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men.  

2. Keep a Healthy Weight.  Maintaining a healthy weight is important.  People who are overweight or suffer from obesity have a higher risk for heart disease. Extra weight can put extra stress on the blood vessels and the heart.

3. Get Regular Physical Activity.  Any physical activity is better than none.  It can be helpful to choose an activity that you enjoy, such as biking, yoga, walking, swimming or tennis. Physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight, and help lower your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.  For adults, the Surgeon General recommends at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking or biking, every week for heart health.  For adolescents and children, it is recommended they get at least one hour of physical activity daily.

4. Don’t Smoke.  Cigarette smoking and tobacco use can increase your risk of heart disease.  If you are a non-smoker, do not start.  If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Talk to your doctor to learn about ways to help you quit.

5. Take Charge of Your Medical Conditions.  If you have a medical condition such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you can take steps to help lower your risk of heart disease. Monitor your cholesterol as recommended by your healthcare provider, check your blood pressure on a regular basis, and manage your blood sugar levels if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. If you take medication to treat any of these diseases, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Never stop taking medication without first talking to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.

6. Get Good Sleep.  Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just important for your energy levels, it is also critical for your heart health. More than one in three Americans say they do not get the recommended amount of sleep, which for most healthy adults is at least seven hours each night. Lack of sleep is associated with health problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, all of which can raise your risk of heart disease. Some things you can do to get better sleep include sticking to a regular sleep schedule, not eating or drinking within a few hours of bedtime, keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and get enough physical activity during the day.

It’s true that some habits are hard to break but remember that small steps can lead to big victories.  Take one habit at a time and with a series of small changes you are on your way to a healthier lifestyle and healthier heart.

Author: Dr. Michael Kleven is a primary care physician with Optum – Arizona.