In a month where matters of the heart are front and center, it also makes sense to take a look at the health of your heart and how to best keep yourself well.
One important thing to consider where heart health is concerned is family history. If one of your parents or grandparents or siblings had a stroke, a heart attack, or other heart issues, this may put you at a higher risk. Considering Heart Disease and Stroke are the Number 1 and Number 5 causes of death in America, it’s best to be informed about your risk factors and how to avoid them. It is not a given that you will follow in the path of your family members; rather, it is always good to be on the safe side where matters of the heart are concerned…so stay optimistic, but proceed with caution.
If you have risks due to family history, the most important thing you can do is fight against your genetics and change the behaviors that make up your increased risk. That includes looking at eating habits, physical fitness, and eliminating smoking. This includes vaping as well. You are especially at risk if a family member had a history of heart disease before age 55 for men or 65 for women. If that is the case, it is prudent to see a cardiologist sooner rather than later, who can help weigh all your risk factors and put together a treatment plan if necessary.
There is also the chance you may be at a higher risk even if there is no family history of heart problems. There are statistics to show that 1 in 3 Hispanics may have high blood pressure and 1 in 2 will also be facing high cholesterol. For African Americans, statistics show that the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke is also higher.
A 2016 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that having “unlucky” genetics can double your risk of heart disease. This study also found that a healthful lifestyle was more important than genetics in determining overall risk for heart disease. In the study, people with the highest genetic predisposition for heart disease were able to cut their risk of cardiovascular disease in half through simple healthy lifestyle modifications.
Lifestyle Modifications include:
- Stopping smoking – Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis (the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel of the heart. This blood clot may then restrict blood flow within the heart, leading to heart tissue damage, or a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack) in people under the age of 50.
- Limiting alcohol – Drinking no alcohol is perfectly healthy. The benefits of drinking small amounts for the “health of your heart” are not fully backed by science. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than: two drinks a day most days, to a weekly maximum of 10 for women or three drinks a day most days, to a weekly maximum of 15 for men.
- Eating well and exercising – Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly and if you find the numbers are not in the range they should be, work with your doctor on a treatment plan.
According to the National Institutes of Health, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and pre-diabetes, smoking, obesity or being overweight, physical inactivity, having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy, an unhealthy diet and increasing age all raise your risk of heart disease. Addressing any or all of these risk factors can help minimize your risk of heart disease.
Pay attention to your heart and the hearts of the ones you love! With a little extra attention to cardiovascular health, you can set yourself on a path to wellness for many years to come! Celebrate your heart and the hearts of those you love this February for Valentine’s Day.