February is American Heart Month, a campaign that aims to increase awareness of cardiovascular disease risk factors and educate about ways to improve heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of American men and women, and is the cause of 1 out of every 3 deaths. Maintaining good heart health is key to avoiding serious illness and disability.
1. Stay Active
Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. In addition, research shows that exercise releases certain brain chemicals that help to reduce anxiety and improve mood. Aim for 30 minutes of heart-rate-boosting activity each day. And take small steps to stay active throughout the day including walking during your lunch break, choosing a parking space far away, or taking the stairs.
2. Improve Your Diet
Reduce sodium and saturated fats and eat more fiber to improve your heart health. Reducing sodium intake helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. Be sure to check food labels carefully to find hidden or surprising sources of sodium in your diet. Saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, while fiber helps lower the level of cholesterol in your blood. Increase your fiber intake by adding more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Talk to your doctor about what is considered a healthy weight for your body type. Many people know they need to lose weight but they aren’t sure exactly how much they need to lose. Develop a specific weight loss goal and you’ll be much more likely to stick to it and accomplish it.
4. Stop Smoking
Smoking comes with a huge list of negative side effects and poor heart health is just one of them. Smoking contributes to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. However, your body begins to repair itself as quickly as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. It’s never too late to quit smoking and improve your health.
5. Get Screened
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common circulation problem in which the arteries that carry blood to the legs or arms become narrowed or clogged. The disease may cause pain however, some people experience no symptoms at all. If you are age 65 or older, ask your doctor about whether a screening exam for PAD is right for you.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral arterial disease is most commonly caused by atherosclerosis, a slow process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up and clog blood vessels. Because PAD tends to develop slowly, symptoms may not be obvious. However, PAD is a serious condition that requires treatment. In fact, women with PAD have 4 times the risk of heart attack and stroke. A PAD screening is a simple, painless exam performed with ultrasound. Talk to your doctor to find out if a consultation is right for you. The Association of Alexandria Radiologists offers PAD screening at Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, and Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.