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Your heart-healthy checklist

Created date

January 22nd, 2013

You probably know someone with heart disease or who has had a stroke. These types of cardiovascular disease are responsible for one in three deaths in the U.S. every year. Along with being the leading causes of death, they are also the number one cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and whether or not you have a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, following these seven heart-healthy tips can help you live a better quality of life.

Heart-healthy tip #1: Control your blood pressure

The pressure in high blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against your artery walls. This constant assault injures these walls, and scar tissue forms. The scar tissue eventually traps cholesterol plaques and other substances, which ultimately results in the obstruction of oxygen-rich blood. Heart attacks and strokes are the consequences. If we live long enough, almost all of us (90%) will develop high blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health. Controlling your blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do with regard to heart health, says Brian Tremaine, M.D., medical director atEagle s Trace, an Erickson Living community in Houston, Tex. Ideally, your reading should be less than 140/90. Lifestyle changes such as watching your salt intake or losing weight help, but some people need medication.

Heart-healthy tip #2: Lower your cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance produced by your body and is necessary for some essential functions such as making vitamin D. About 62% of Americans already have high cholesterol by the time they reach their 50s. Approximately 75% of the cholesterol circulating in your blood is made by your body; 25% or so comes from food. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200, with most of that being HDL or good cholesterol, which actually lowers your risk of heart disease. LDL or bad cholesterol, however, has a tendency to stick to blood vessel walls, especially if there s too much of it. Although there s little research data about how to treat high cholesterol in people over age 85, making lifestyle changes and using medicines in some instances can still help prevent a heart attack or stroke, Tremaine says. Eat low-fat, low-cholesterol foods and increase the amount of fiber you eat every day. Physical activity also goes a long way in lowering LDL cholesterol.

Heart-healthy tip #3: Move your body

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of Americans don t get enough physical activity. So start moving today. Most people who are free of heart disease can begin exercising without any prior testing such as an EKG or stress test, Tremaine says. If you ve had a heart attack or stroke, discuss how to go about it with your primary care doctor and cardiologist. Getting 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week is ideal, but do whatever you can. Research shows that even walking for 20 minutes a day can contribute to cardiovascular health, Tremaine says.

Heart-healthy tip #4: Watch your blood sugar

High blood glucose (sugar) damages blood vessels and major body organs. Your risk of type 2 diabetes, in which your body stops making insulin or your body doesn t use insulin efficiently, increases with age almost one-third of adults over age 65 have it. Your fasting blood glucose level should be less than 100. Anything higher could mean diabetes or pre-diabetes. In a nutshell, if you have diabetes, control it, and if you don t, work hard to prevent it, Tremaine says. Eating a healthful diet, exercising, and controlling your weight are all good strategies, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Heart-healthy tip #5: Watch your weight

Obesity is associated with numerous heart-health risks, but being a tad overweight as a senior may not be a bad thing. Research results are casting doubt about the harms of carrying a few extra pounds when you re older. Some studies, in fact, have shown that extra weight may confer a protective effect on some aspects of your health. The necessity of losing weight as you age depends upon how much you weigh to begin with, and your overall health status, Tremaine says. For some people, taking off a few pounds can improve their blood pressure and blood glucose. For others, it may not matter that much. The important thing is to talk with your doctor about your weight and its effect on your health.

Heart-healthy tip #6: Eat the right foods

First of all, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, Tremaine says. Most people don t get nearly enough or eat a wide enough variety. Make half of your plate at each meal fruits and/or vegetables and keep it colorful. The Mediterranean diet has been touted in the last several years as the model for health. There are many versions of this dietary plan, Tremaine says. But essentially the principles are a high amount of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; beans, nuts and seeds; moderate poultry and fish; little red meat and dairy; and the use of healthy oils such as olive oil.

Heart-healthy tip #7: Stop smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, and the longer you continue, the worse the effects on your body. At the same time, you can reduce your cardiovascular risk within a few months of quitting, Tremaine says. And within a few years, you have a significant risk reduction. So it s worth it to quit, no matter what age you are.