Heart Health for All
Heart disease kills one person every 37 seconds In the United States.
Heart conditions are incredibly common in the U.S., with nearly half of American adults having some kind of cardiovascular disease — making it the most common cause of death.
These conditions range from coronary artery disease to arrhythmia, and heart disease can cause some scary medical emergencies, including stroke and heart attack.
As a national and Florida leader in adult and children’s heart care, Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Heart Institute encourage you not to wait to take care of your heart. Start early, stay committed, and if you need us, we’re right here with expertise and compassionate care for every heart. At Memorial, we lead with heart.
Know Your Numbers
Let’s start off with some of the key figures to watch as you keep an eye on your heart health. Medical experts say these are the targets to reach in order to lower your heart disease risk.
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- Blood pressure: 120/80 or less
- Blood sugar: less than 100 mg/dL (fasting)
- Body mass index (BMI): 18.5 - 24.9
- Cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (fasting)
Most of these levels aren’t things you can measure at home, so be sure to talk with a doctor if you have any concerns and follow your doctor’s advice for regular screenings of these numbers. Your doctor can help you best address any issues.
Heart Healthy Foods
One way to start improving your heart health begins with your next trip to the grocery store.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables, while cutting back on processed foods, can help reduce heart disease risk.
Not sure what to buy? The U.S. Health Department has a shopping list already prepared. Here are some of its highlights.
- Veggies and fruits: Fresh produce, leafy greens, low-sodium canned vegetables and frozen produce (without added sugars, sauces or fats) are all good options.
- Dairy: You’ll want to look for options that are low in fat or fat-free.
- Whole grains: For pastas, rice, bread or other grain products, look for 100% whole grain options. If not that, seek products that have “whole wheat” or another whole grain as their first-listed ingredient.
- Proteins: Plant-based proteins like beans, nuts or tofu are great, as are seafood, poultry, eggs and lean meats (U.S. Health and Human Services Department recommends at least 93% lean).
- Healthy oils and fats: Vegetable oil, light mayo and oil-based dressings for salads are healthier than full-fat or creamy alternatives.
- High-fiber foods: The CDC notes that high-fiber, low-fat foods can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
The CDC also has some tips for what to avoid:
- Cut back on foods that are high in saturated or trans fats.
- Limit salt intake, which can help lower blood pressure.
- Cut back on sugar to have healthier blood-sugar levels.
- Drink in moderation. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, and the CDC says men should cap it at two drinks per day and just one for women.
Other Ways to Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Of course, food is just part of the work toward improving heart health. Here are a few more tips on what you can do outside the kitchen.
- Know your ancestry: Find out if your parents, grandparents, siblings or other close relatives have a history of heart disease, and tell your doctor what you learn.
- Rest up: Aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep every day. Getting enough sleep can reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
- Get moving: Try to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. That comes out to a half hour, five days a week. And this doesn’t just mean trips to a gym. Do something fun! Hiking, swimming, dancing or riding a bicycle are all good ways to get your blood pumping.
- Quit smoking: If you currently smoke, work on quitting. And avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as much as you can. Secondhand smoke can increase your risk of heart or lung disease by up to 30%.
- Work on stress: Not only does it feel bad, but chronic stress can damage the walls of your arteries. Decrease your stress levels by trying some unwinding activities like meditation, journaling, deep breathing or mindfulness. Or just go do something fun with your family and friends.
All About Heart Attacks
Datasource: Heart attack risk factors
Among the severe conditions that cardiovascular disease can cause, heart attacks are the most prevalent. Each year, 805,000 Americans have one.
To help prevent heart attacks, it is important to follow the general heart-health advice outlined above. It can also help to know the risk factors and symptoms of a heart attack, so you can seek medical help when necessary.
Here are some of the risk factors for a heart attack, as outlined by Ralph Levy, MD, chief of Adult Cardiac Medical Services, Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute.
- High blood pressure: This is a major risk factor for many heart conditions, including heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and premature cardiovascular death.
- Diabetes: The high blood sugar that comes with diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, according to the CDC.
- Family history: If any of your close relatives have had coronary disease in their 40s or 50s, it’s a risk factor for you.
- Smoking: If you currently smoke cigarettes or used to smoke heavily, the smoke’s chemicals can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, which the CDC says can lead to multiple cardiovascular issues including heart attacks.
- High cholesterol: The higher your cholesterol, the more it can build up in your arteries, increasing the risk for a heart attack.
- Obesity: Being overweight can damage arteries and the heart in myriad ways and can increase heart attack risk.
Heart attack symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient, Dr. Levy says. They can include any of the following:
Datasource: Heart attack symptoms
- Chest pain, radiating toward the left arm
- Arm pain
- Jaw pain with a toothache
- Back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Profound fatigue
If you have any of these symptoms, Dr. Levy says it’s important to seek care as soon as possible.
Patients have to be aware that symptoms can be very atypical, but if they are at risk, they need to come to the emergency room.