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Heart Health

Your heart is a strong muscle about the size of the palm of your hand. Just like an engine makes a car go, the heart keeps your body running. The heart has two pumps. The stronger pump uses arteries to send blood with oxygen away from the heart, throughout the body. The other pump uses veins to bring blood back to the heart and sends it to the lungs to get more oxygen. An electrical system in the heart controls the heart’s pumps (the heart beat or pulse). Just like other muscles in the body, it is important to exercise your heart muscle with regular physical activity.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  More than 600,000 Americans diet of heart disease each year.  That's 1 in every 4 deaths in this country.

The term "heart disease" refers to several types of heart conditions.  The most common type is coronary artery disease, which can cause a heart attack.  Other kinds of heart diseases may involve the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease.

What are the risk factors?

Anyone, including children, can develop heart disease.  It occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries.  When this happens, your arteries can narrow over time, reducing blood flow to the heart.

Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and not getting enough exercise all increase your risk of having heart disease.  

Having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes also can increase your risk for heart disease. 

7 steps to a healthier heart:

  1. Stop smoking.  Avoiding tobacco smoke is the best thing you can do to maintain your health. Smoking and constant exposure to other people's smoke increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.  As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to drop.  
  2. Maintain a healthy weight.  Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important for your health.  If you have too much body fat, especially at the waist, you have a higher risk for health problems (heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes).  
    • Risk factors:
      • Waist circumference:
        • Women: 35 inches or more
        • Men: 40 inches or more
      • Obesity: defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 kg/m2 or greater, or about 30+ pounds overweight.
        • To find BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, and divide by your height in inches.  Then divide again by your height in inches.
  3. Get active.  Regular physical activity is important.  Try to get at least 150 minutes (2 hrs 30 min) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.  This is equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week.  Some activities include brisk walking, jogging, running, basketball, swimming, water aerobics, soccer, and tennis.  If you haven't been active, start with 10 minutes per day and work your way up!
  4. Eat a healthy diet.  A heart-healthy diet takes into account proper energy balance (energy eaten equals energy expended through your metabolism, daily activities, and exercise).  If you can meet 4 to 5 of the following goals and keep your calories in check, your diet is on a good path for excellent heart health.
    • Eat 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.
    • Eat 2 servings of fish per week.
    • Eat at least 3 servings of fiber-rick whole grains per day.
    • Monitor sodium intake - decrease processed/packaged foods, avoid adding salt to foods, and limit eating out.
    • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
  5. Control cholesterol.  Your total cholesterol should be under 200 mg/dl.  Try to avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats (visit out "Dietary Fat" section).  Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your total calories and trans fat to less than 1% of your total calories.  A family history of high cholesterol or a diet high in fat contributes to the likelihood of your arteries becoming clogged with cholesterol and other substances.  
  6. Manage blood pressure.  High blood pressure makes your heart work harder, which puts more strain on the heart and arteries. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and low-sodium foods can help you decrease your blood pressure, as well as losing weight and becoming more physically active.  The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help you implement these nutrition changes and decrease your blood pressure.
  7. Control blood sugar.  It's important to know your fasting blood glucose number.  A healthy non-diabetic adult should have a reading of less than 100 mg/dl.  Having diabetes or uncontrolled blood glucose puts you at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Your wellness coach is prepared to help you implement these steps to a healthy heart.  Contact your wellness coach for a more in-depth look at heart health and changes that YOU can make in your daily routine so you can live a long, healthy life.

CDC: Know the Facts About Heart Disease. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/ docs/consumered_heartdisease.pdf

American Heart Association. Life's Simple 7. 2011.

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