By Dr. Mark Lebenthal, MD, FACP, FACC, cardiologist at Somerset Medical Center
February is American Heart Month, and as those New Year’s resolutions start to fall by the wayside, it’s a better time than ever to make a new one, centered on heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming about 600,000 lives each year. This startling prevalence is the reason why we designate the entire month of February each year to raising awareness and encouraging people to take preventative action against heart disease. While many factors contribute to a person’s risk of developing heart disease, by leading a healthy lifestyle and monitoring for any potential problems people can greatly reduce their likelihood of experiencing a heart problem.
Healthy Heart Habits:
- Avoid bad fats. Saturated fats and trans fats, commonly referred to as “bad fats,” raise levels of cholesterol in the blood, which can greatly increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Limit your daily intake of meat and dairy products to avoid consuming too many saturated fats, and avoid trans fats commonly found in margarine, spreads, and processed foods.
- Enjoy good fats. Unsaturated fats, commonly referred to as “good fats” can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stimulate metabolism, stabilize heart rhythms, improve nerve activity, and boost your immune system. Good fats can be found in plant oils, such as flax seed oil or canola oil, nuts and seeds, and fish.
- Creating a healthy, balanced diet. In addition to increasing your intake of foods boasting good fats, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods to balance your diet and ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
- Coping with stress. Continued stress can have a significant negative impact on your heart. Don’t let life’s uncertainties and challenges threaten your health. People cope with stress in different ways, depending on their personalities and lifestyles. Find a healthy outlet that works for you, such as socializing, exercising, or indulging in a favorite hobby, and try to avoid situations or individuals who cause you stress.
- Carving out time for physical activity. Find an exercise program that works for you, and stick to it. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, whether you choose to take daily walks, jog on the
treadmill, lift weights, or take a class at the gym. Once you find the activity you like most, make it a part of your routine.
Signs to Watch For:
- Chest Pain, which includes pressure, squeezing, or pain in the upper chest, back, or lower abdomen.
- Recurrent dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Shortness of breath with activity, or difficulty completing regular activities such as walking up the stairs or getting dressed in the morning.
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen.
- Wheezing, or a persistent cough, due to fluid that leaks into the lungs.
Your heart affects each and every other part of your body and deserves your time and attention. If you experience any of the symptoms described above, visit a cardiologist immediately. However, don’t wait to take action until it’s too late. Remember to schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor for any potential problems, as while heart symptoms may appear suddenly, problems usually tend to develop over time. Be sure to also understand your family history of heart disease and consult with your physician on your own personal risk and to develop a preventative course of action that works for your individual situation.
Celebrate American Heart Month by making the changes necessary to keep your heart healthy in the long run.