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Trinity Mother Frances
Neuroscience Institute

Healthy Heart Tips

Our main purpose at the Louis & Peaches Owen Heart Hospital is to prevent you from ever being a patient here. With education and preventive care, that may be possible. Check our healthy heart tips and decrease your risk of heart attack. With information like this in your arsenal, you’ll be more likely to keep your heart healthy for years to come.

Here are five heart disease prevention tips to get you started.

1. Don't smoke or use tobacco
Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and, ultimately, a heart attack. When it comes to protecting your heart, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

Did you know that the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder? It narrows your blood vessels and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. Even so-called "social smoking" — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease.

The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you'll start reapiing rewards as soon as you quit. Learn more about smoking cessation programs at Trinity Mother Frances.

2. Exercise 30 minutes several days a week
Getting regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. Combine physical activity with other healthy lifestyle choices and the payoff is even greater. Physical activity helps control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes that may put a strain on your heart. It also reduces stress, which can wreak havoc on your health.

Try getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits; so if you can't meet those guidelines, don't give up. Break up your workout time into 10-minute sessions and see if that is more manageable.

Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total minutes. You don't have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you’ll see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a special diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease. Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. Learn more about a heart healthy diet.

4. Maintain a healthy weight
Weight gain in adulthood is mostly fat rather than muscle. This excess weight can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes that increase the chance of heart disease.

One way to see if you’re at a healthy weight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Since muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:

      • Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
      • Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm). Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just ten percent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.

5. Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But you probably won't know if you have these conditions unless you’re tested for them. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action. Take our seven-minute online heart risk assessment.

      • Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren't ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
      • Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of heart disease.
      • Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to talk to your doctor about a “fasting blood sugar” test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years.

For more information on maintaining good heart health visit www.americanheart.org.

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