3 Big Ways to Love Your Heart

February Is American Heart Month: 3 Big Ways to Love Your Heart

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in America. “The most common heart disease,” explains Judith Mackall, MD, “is coronary artery disease or plaque formation within the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.” This dangerous condition can lead to myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack.

The good news is that heart disease is preventable, and there are specific steps you can take on a daily basis to improve your heart health.

1. Limit certain foods

The American Heart Association recommends a balanced diet that consists of foods like fruits, veggies, oily fish, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts and legumes. And remember, what you choose not to eat is just as important as what you do eat. The American Heart Association suggests the following limitations:

  • Less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day
  • No more than two servings of processed meats a week
  • Limited intake of foods high in saturated fats

Dr. Mackall adds her own suggestions: “Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine intake.” Another of her recommendations? Lay off the energy drinks. “Energy drinks in the presence of undiagnosed heart disease can be deadly.”

2. Make exercise fun

It can be tough to fit exercise into your busy schedule, but setting aside some time for physical activity is crucial for heart health. Dr. Mackall suggests exercising at a moderate level of intensity for 30 to 60 minutes five times a week in order to lower your risk of death by cardiovascular disease.

Having trouble starting a workout regimen? The trick is finding something you actually enjoy. Don’t force yourself to go for a daily jog if that’s not your true exercise calling. There are plenty of activities to choose. Visit an indoor rock gym. Try swimming laps. Sign up for tennis lessons. Keep at it until you find an activity that you can look forward to. Another tip? Join forces. Maybe there’s a friend you’ve been meaning to see more often. A weekend jog may be more appealing if it gives you the chance to catch up with a buddy.

3. Schedule your “Quit Day”

If you’ve never been a smoker – great. Pat yourself on the back and keep it up. But if you’re a heavy smoker or even a social smoker, it’s time to call it quits. According to the American Heart Association, smokers suffer an increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Quitting smoking is not easy. Make the commitment feel real by choosing a day to quit and marking it on your calendar. Consider drawing a red heart on your chosen date to symbolize your goal of improving your heart health. Sign the American Heart Association’s No-Smoking Contract and share it with friends, family or even your doctor.

Judith Mackall, MD, is the president of the Cleveland chapter of the American Heart Association and Section Chief of Cardiac Electrophysiology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Learn more about cardiovascular care and the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

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