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February is National Heart Month

February is National Heart Month. Read the top 10 heart healthy tips from NYMC School of Medicine Dean D. Douglas Miller, M.D., C.M., M.B.A.

  1. Get Active - Daily physical activity increases the length and quality of your life. If you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (like brisk walking), five times per week, you can almost guarantee yourself a healthier and more satisfying life with lower risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

  2. Control Cholesterol - When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Cholesterol is a substance that our bodies use it to make cell membranes and some hormones. When you have too much “bad” cholesterol (LDL), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your arteries. Resulting blockages can lead to heart disease and stroke.

  3. Eat Well (Fiber and Fish) - Healthy foods are the fuel our bodies use to repair cells and to create the energy we need to thrive and fight diseases. Vegetables,  fruit, low-fat dairy, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats including fish are the basic nutritional building blocks for a healthy life.

  4. Maintain a Healthy Weight - If you have too much body fat — particularly at your waist — you’re at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. If you’re overweight (BMI > 30) or obese (BMI > 35), you can reduce your heart disease risk by losing weight and successfully keeping it off.  Losing five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction.

  5. Don’t Smoke - Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, and increases your risk for heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. Like a line of tumbling dominoes, one risk creates another. Blood clots and hardened arteries increase your risks for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease. Smoking can also reduce your “good” cholesterol (HDL) and reduces your lung capacity, making it harder to get the physical activity you need for optimal health.

  6. Reduce Blood Sugar - Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Our bodies make a hormone called insulin that acts as a carrier, taking glucose to cells. If your fasting glucose level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes.  Although diabetes is treatable— and one can live with the condition—glucose levels must be controlled to significantly decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

  7. Avoid Saturated Fats - Too much “bad” cholesterol can clog the heart and arteries with dangerous plaque. It comes primarily from saturated and ‘trans’ fats, found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried or processed foods. Adults should reduce their intake of these products, cut out trans fats completely (check ingredients lists for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”—those are trans fats) and get a cholesterol blood test at least every five years. Your doctor should consider your other risk factors for heart disease when deciding what your cholesterol goals should be.

  8. Check Your Blood Pressure  - That cuff squeezing your arm at every doctor's visit is important. It measures the amount of pressure flowing through your arteries with every heartbeat. Normally, blood pressure is 120 over 80 (120/80). If your blood pressure gets too high (>140/90), the extra force can damage and scar artery walls, making it more difficult for oxygen in blood to get to and from the heart. The heart then has to pump harder every beat and can wear out more quickly.

  9. Manage Stress - This is life—stress happens. When we’re under pressure, our body ramps up circulating adrenaline, which overworks our hearts. This is not good.  It is important to find techniques to help manage your reaction. One option is regular exercise, which trains your body how to handle stress. Another option is talking—to a trusted friend or a professional counselor—to help keep stress in perspective.

  10. Control Portion Size - How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed are habits which add unnecessary calories. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. The following tips will help you keep your portion sizes in control:

    • Keep track of the number of servings you eat. A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of lean meat, fish or chicken is about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.

    • Use a small plate or bowl when you eat to help manage portion size. You may also need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you’re comfortable with your judgment.

    • Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods. This strategy can shape up your diet as well as your heart.