February is American Heart Month. Each year, the American Heart Association sponsors this month-long campaign to raise awareness about heart disease—still the No. 1 leading cause of death among Americans. The goal of American Hearth Month is to help each of us better understand the risks associated with heart disease and to promote a heart healthy lifestyle.
As a cardiologist with The Vancouver Clinic, I have a special interest in preventive cardiology and helping individuals achieve heart health. Through education and action, we can all lead healthier and more productive lives. Here are some simple steps.
Step #1 Stay physically active
- Walk for at least 30 minutes a day. Try taking a 10-minute walk before or after breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Walking offers numerous health benefits, even beyond your heart.
Step #2 Watch what you eat
- Vegetables and fruits.
- Whole grains: oats/oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, barley, and corn.
- Fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
- Skinless chicken and fish.
- Select meat substitutes such as dried beans, peas, lentils or tofu.
- Beans and legumes: black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and lentils.
- Nuts (unsalted): almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts.
- Healthy cooking oils: olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil and peanut oil.
- Limit saturated fat, trans-fat and red meat. If you choose to eat red meat, select the leanest cuts available.
- Limit salt and sodium intake. Choose low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices and herbs.
- Limit sugar, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Step #3 Do not smoke tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke
Step #4 Monitor key factors that point to early warning signs
- Have your blood pressure checked every 1-2 years.
- Know your cholesterol numbers.
- Watch your weight and ask your health care provider if you should be screened for diabetes.
There are many paths to prevention. Hopefully, some of them are suitable to your lifestyle, making it more heart healthy.
Identifying Risk Factors
Medical experts have identified seven cardiac risk factors: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, diet, smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle.
While nearly half of all Americans have at least one major risk factor, many do not know it and others are slow to act upon warning signs. Each of us should assess his or her own heart risk, and take action. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have developed a helpful online calculator at https://www.cvriskcalculator.com with recommendations on how to reduce heart risk.
A cardiologist can help if you have any symptoms of concern, including pain, pressure or burning in the chest, difficulty breathing, worsening fatigue, palpitations, lightheadedness and passing out. If any of these symptoms are related to exertion (i.e., walking up a hill or doing something strenuous), that would be especially concerning.
Women may experience more uncommon symptoms of heart disease, including shortness of breath, nausea, weakness and pain in the arm, jaw, neck or back. Because of these more atypical symptoms, women who have heart attacks frequently go to the hospital much later than men, delaying potentially life-saving treatments.
This February and beyond, please make your heart health a priority. Living a healthy lifestyle is a journey, and every journey begins with a single step.