HATTIESBURG, Miss. (February 1, 2022) – Did you know that your heart is your hardest working muscle? Many of us exercise to keep our muscles strong. So, how do you keep your heart strong?
February is American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health, because keeping your heart healthy is central to overall good health. You are never too old or too young to begin taking good care of your heart. Taking small steps to follow a healthy lifestyle at any age can help prevent heart disease and lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke.
“Although some heart disease factors like family history can’t be controlled, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health,” said cardiologist, Craig Thieling, MD, FACC.
Conditions that lead to heart disease may begin early in life, but there are many steps you can take to protect your heart health. Start by knowing your risk factors. Some, like family history or being over the age of 45, are beyond your control, but there are risk factors that you can do something about.
Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of these three risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Habits for a Healthy Heart
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to avoid heart disease. Your heart and overall health will benefit if you follow these nutritional guidelines:
- Include a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Eat fiber-rich whole grains
- Choose low-fat dairy products
- Eat lean meats and at least two servings per week of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, herring)
- Limit sodium to less than 1,500 mg a day
- Watch fat and sugar intake
- Only drink alcohol in moderation
- Watch portion sizes
A regular exercise program helps to decrease your resting heart rate and boost good cholesterol. “Try to exercise about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week which can be divided up in different ways to work with your schedule,” said Thieling. Walking is a great way to get started, because it’s easy to do, inexpensive and available everywhere with no gear required. Small changes in exercise can have a big impact on cardiac wellness. “Just getting up and being active is important,” Thieling said.
There are plenty of great places to walk right here in Hattiesburg such as Kamper Park, Town Square Park, or the Long Leaf Trace, or get creative and walk a few laps at Turtle Creek Mall, Midtown Market or The District at Midtown.
Keep Your Weight in Check
Your risk of heart disease and stroke lowers if you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Discuss your weight with your healthcare provider to make sure you are in the healthy range and determine which steps you can take to lose weight if you need to. Thieling recommends a heart healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, lean proteins, whole grains, limiting sugar intake and watching salt intake as well as avoiding dessert, soft drinks or sports drinks which have a lot of sugar and are empty calories. “Water is what you should be drinking most of the day,” Thieling said.
“Portion control is also important whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight,” he said.
Sleep on It
Thieling said making sure you get a good night’s sleep (at least seven hours per night) is another small step with big payoffs for heart health. Not getting enough sleep puts you at a higher risk for heart disease. He recommends 7 to 8 hours a night on average.
Treat Stress and Mental Health Problems
Keep stress in check by taking time each day to relax and unwind. Exercise is a good way to alleviate stress. Get help if you have trouble coping because of depression, anxiety, or other health problems.
Know Your Numbers for Optimal Heart Health
Talk to your healthcare provider to learn your key health numbers to keep your heart strong and healthy.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack for men and women, but women often describe the sensations as pressure, tightness, or an ache. Research also shows that less typical heart attack symptoms like back pain, nausea or fatigue are more common for women.
If you experience any of the following symptoms of a heart attack, call 911. Faster treatment means less damage to the heart muscle and better odds of a full recovery.
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, stomach, or shoulder.
- Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
- Breaking out in cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
For more information about heart health, visit www.forrestgeneral.com/heart.