Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease. While that’s scary, we want to arm you with the knowledge you need to keep your heart healthy for years to come.
1. You can control some of your risk factors
While genetics does play a role, having a family history of heart disease doesn’t mean that it’s completely out of your control. There are plenty of risk factors you have the power to change.
The American Heart Association recommends that people focus on “Life’s Simple 7” to lower their risk for heart disease. The seven factors are not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, healthy body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. This handy calculator is a helpful tool for figuring out your risks.
If you find that you’re at high risk for heart disease, talk to your healthcare provider. Together, you can come up with a plan to keep your ticker working at its best.
2. The definition of “heart healthy diet” has changed
One controllable risk factor for heart disease is diet. With conflicting messages from the media, it can be hard to know which diet is best for heart health.
Until recently, the healthcare industry demonized foods that contain cholesterol (like meat and eggs). Researchers believed that dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol and caused heart disease.
However, the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that not all foods high in cholesterol are bad for your health. Foods that are higher in cholesterol but still low in saturated fat are still part of a healthy diet. This means that animal foods such as eggs and shrimp are back on the menu.
The guidelines recommend eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as limiting saturated and trans fats. Following a Mediterranean-style diet filled with healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish is a great way to eat for a healthy heart. The Mediterranean diet even leaves room for some red wine (in moderation, of course!).
3. The risks are different for men and women
Heart disease is more than just a man’s disease. It’s actually the leading cause of death for both men and women. Women are more likely to have smaller heart attacks than men, but they’re often more impacted and disabled by them. This may be because women commonly wait longer to get medical help.
Symptoms for heart attacks can be different for women than the usual chest pain or discomfort. They may experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and jaw or back pain. They also might only have mild symptoms during a heart attack. We know that this is a serious topic to discuss, but being aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and getting help early may save your life, or the life of someone you love.
4. There are no clear symptoms of high blood pressure
Since we’re talking about heart disease symptoms, let’s cover the symptoms of high blood pressure. Oh wait, there are none! This gives high blood pressure the dubious nickname of “silent killer”.
We know that getting your arm circulation cut off isn’t the most pleasant experience, but it’s the only way to keep track of your blood pressure levels. Even if your blood pressure is normal right now, the American Heart Association recommends getting screened once every two years—so mark your calendar.
Need help lowering your blood pressure? The DASH Diet is one lifestyle change that may bring your levels down.
5. Those with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease
If you have diabetes, you’ve likely focused on managing your blood sugar. However, did you know that you also need to be aware of your heart health?
People with diabetes have a higher risk for heart disease and a greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke. They also tend to have higher rates of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which further raises their risk.
High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and nerves that needed to keep your heart and vascular system working at their best. This is why managing blood sugar levels is so important. Even if you’re diagnosed with pre-diabetes, taking steps to manage blood sugar now can protect your health in the future.
6. Cholesterol tests are not just for older people
Think you’re too young to get your cholesterol checked? Think again! High cholesterol can happen at any age, so it’s important to keep an eye on your levels.
If you’re 20 or older, you should have your cholesterol levels tested every four to six years. Like the blood pressure screening we talked about earlier, this is another important test to put in your calendar.
Don’t avoid getting a check-up out of fear; there are plenty of medication options available if a doctor finds you need help keeping your cholesterol in check, and many ways to keep treatment affordable.
7. You need to know your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels
You now know that you have to get your cholesterol levels checked regularly, but why is this so important? Your total cholesterol consists of two different types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered “bad cholesterol,” while HDL is considered to be good. Low levels of LDL and high levels of HDL mean that you have a lower risk for heart disease.
Your health care provider should also test for a type of fat in your blood called triglycerides. High triglycerides can signal heart disease, so you want this number to be low.
Seems like a lot to remember? Don’t worry—each time you’re tested, your healthcare provider will review your results and health information and help you develop an action plan to keep your levels in range. The diet information discussed earlier can also help you keep your cholesterol and triglycerides in check.
8. You’re probably not exercising enough
If you’re a highly active individual who weight trains regularly and runs 5Ks for fun, we applaud you! Unfortunately, most people are falling short of the physical activity recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
Who has the time?
The best way to hit your weekly activity target is to spread your movement out over the course of the week. Take a brisk walk on Monday, play tennis with a friend on Wednesday, and bike with your kids and garden on the weekend. If you have an office job, taking breaks and going for short walks can add up big time toward your weekly goal—just make sure that your boss is okay with it.
We know that heart health isn’t the most glamorous topic, but caring for your heart is essential for people of all ages. Understanding your risk factors and getting your markers, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, tested regularly can help you avoid heart disease. What’s more glamorous than a long, healthy life?
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About Slingshot Health
Slingshot Health is a health tech startup that brings top healthcare providers and patients together. Patients bid on the cost of services and healthcare providers accept bids based on availability. Slingshot Health is unique in that it is a mutual marketplace putting both patients and providers back in control. Visit us at slingshothealth.com.