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The ABCs of Heart Health – Tips to Prevent Heart Disease

Old couple holding each other, sitting outside on patio smiling and laughing together
Dr. Yvonne Saunders-Teigeler wearing pink sweater in headshot

By: Dr. Yvonne Saunders-Teigeler, FAAFP
North Amidon Family Physicians
Dr. Yvonne Saunders-Teigeler was born and raised in Illinois. She graduated from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Family Medicine Residency program in June 2001. Dr. Teigeler received honors while in her residency program including Chief Resident status in her third year. Dr. Teigeler received her doctorate from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies in 1997 and she graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois with her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1992. She has the degree of Fellow from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

February is National Heart Month and a great time to evaluate your own heart health. If you don’t know your numbers or haven’t yet assessed your risk for heart disease, you can sign up for a Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring and save $44 through the end of February.

When it comes to heart health and the need to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart attack, here are some things to remember:

WARNING: Aspirin as a way to prevent a first heart attack is NO LONGER recommended by physicians.

A – If you have ever had a heart attack, it is recommended to take a daily low dose aspirin to prevent another heart attack. Ask your doctor about taking aspirin to prevent another heart attack. If you have never had a heart attack, taking a daily aspirin to prevent a first heart attack is no longer recommended, but make sure to check with your doctor about your particular health needs.

B – It’s highly important to monitor your blood pressure because high blood pressure can come out of nowhere. Have your blood pressure checked often. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), your doctor might recommend some lifestyle changes or place you on a special medication.

C – Make sure you manage your cholesterol and know your numbers. There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). If you have high levels of the “bad” cholesterol, you might not show any symptoms. However, there could still be fatty build up happening in your heart. Knowing your levels and following a healthy eating and exercise plan with your doctor, just might save your life.

DDiet is one the biggest ways you can take control of your heart health. When you eat healthy foods or work to limit your salt intake, you’re doing what’s best for your heart. Focus on getting in those good fats, found in foods like avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil. Remember that many things are good, but in moderation. Limit your salt intake and try to replace sugary snacks with things like high-fiber fruit or dark chocolate. When eating fish, make sure it’s wild caught and clear of any mercury.

E – Eating healthy is just the beginning, you also have to exercise. Getting up and getting active is one of the best ways to exercise your heart and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. If you’re worried about what kind of exercises you may or may not be able to do, speak with your doctor. If you’ve had a heart event or are at risk for a heart attack, your doctor might recommend cardiac rehab.

Learning coping skills and keeping your feelings in check is one way to combat heart disease.

F – Ensuring your heart is healthy doesn’t stop at your physical health, you need to address your feelings as well. Emotional well-being is incredible important as your psychological state can express physical characteristics. If you’re dealing with emotional trauma or too much stress, make sure you find a health way to cope.

G – Even if you’re not over the age of 50, it’s still a good idea to get screened and get screened early. Newton Medical Center offers tons of services through MDsave to make those screenings affordable if not covered by insurance. Speak with your doctors about the top preventative tests you might want to get done immediately.

H – When it comes to heart health, it’s incredibly important to know your health history and know what kinds of issues run in your family. If heart problems run in your family, that could mean you’re more susceptible to having a heart event. Any information could be pertinent, so share what you know with your doctor.

I – By taking these steps and having a conversation with your doctor, you’re doing what you can to identify your risk. The American Heart Association has great resources on what you should be looking for as far as heart attack and stroke symptoms, ways to improve your lifestyle, and how to care for a loved one who’s suffered from a heart attack or stroke.

J – It’s really important to steer clear of a sedentary life. Just move! Get up and walk around the office, your home or around the block. Sitting for long periods of time is one of the worst things you can do for your heart. Another easy way to move is to have a stand up work station. Standing up at work extends life expectancy and improves quality of life. Of course, you should only stand at work if your health history and condition allows you to do so.

K – It might be hard, especially if you have a sweet tooth, but the more you can knock out sweets, the better you’ll feel. Focus on limiting your sugar intake. The American Heart Association says men should only have nine teaspoons a day and women should limit themselves to six. To put it into perspective, a 20 oz. bottle of soda can have as much as 20 teaspoons of sugar.

L – Another way to positively impact your heart is to limit your alcohol use. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it can raise your blood pressure which we have already established isn’t good for your heart. Long term affects lead to the weakening of your heart muscle which could impact its efficiency in pumping blood throughout your body.

Person checking blood glucose with blood on finger and strip in hand next to blood glucose monitor
Newton Medical Center offers Diabetes Education on the first Thursday of each month. Visit our Facebook Page for info.

M – Not everyone with heart disease has diabetes, but for the ones that do, managing the symptoms of diabetes is crucial in maintaining good heart health. The American Heart Association says nearly 68% of people over the age of 65 who have diabetes die from some form of heart disease. Another 16% die from having a stroke. This is because of an increased risk of hypertension, cholesterol issues and poorly controlled blood sugars, among other things.

N – Before you do anything else, it’s important to know your numbers. By getting the basic metrics of your cholesterol levels, your risk for heart attack through a Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring test and your blood pressure, you and your doctor will be able to make informed decisions about your heart health and have a better understanding of your risk. You can also assess your risk through a cardiac risk calculator such as through the American Heart Association’s My Life Check that checks the seven risk factors of heart disease.

O – Adding Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, whether through a vitamin or through eating fish and nuts, will reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends people eat these at least twice a week because the Omega-3s lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and reduce irregular heartbeats.

P – We’ve touched on it a little already, but it’s worth saying again – pitch the salt! High sodium diets impact heart function negatively. It’s incredibly important that people pay attention to the amount of salt in their diets. As a general rule, most Americans should only consume 2,300mg of salt per day and move toward only 1,500mg per day. Most Americans eat about 3,400mg of salt which is way too much to sustain a healthy heart.

QQuit smoking. It’s that simple. When a person smokes, it impacts their heart and lungs and causes health problems body-wide.

Elderly man running on treadmill
Cardiac Rehabilitation is a great way to exercise your heart and educate yourself on heart health.

RCardiac rehabilitation is a great way to exercise your heart and learn about heart-healthy lifestyles. This medically supervised education and exercise program is designed to limit stress on the heart and improve cardiac illness. You do need a doctor to refer you into the program, but once you’re in, you’ll learn about ways to stay heart-healthy as well as work on upper body and strength training.

S – Did you know the way you react to stress could be adding to your risk of heart attack? Emotional trauma causes a physical response. Hormones speed up your heart rate and put a lot of extra work on your heart. Focus on healthy ways to cope and speak with your doctor if you’re under any unreasonable amount of stress.

T – While heart problems can be difficult to manage, the easiest thing you can do is take your medicine as prescribed by a doctor. If you have any questions about how the medication works, speak with your primary care physician or pharmacist.

U – Are you getting enough water every day? If not, up your water intake and rethink your drink. Instead of reaching for sugary sodas, coffee or tea, reach for a bottle of water and maintain hydration. It’s a great way to stay heart-healthy.

V – Healthy diets often include eating your veggies! Vegetables of all kinds can improve heart function and be part of a balanced diet. Add things like spinach, broccoli and asparagus to your meal plan. 

W – A heart-healthy lifestyle wouldn’t be complete without weight management. When you keep a healthy body weight, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate blood. Maintaining a healthy weight will also lower your risk of developing diabetes. You’ll feel better and have more energy to be active. Are you worried about your weight? You can assess your body mass index (BMI) to see where you fall and speak to your doctor about a weight loss plan if you’re in the overweight or obese categories.

Red circle that saying
Sign up by the end of February for a Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring Test and find out your heart disease risk!

X – Getting an X-ray of your heart (called a CT scan) could be the first step in saving your life. Several people who signed up for the Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring through MDsave have received surprising results that actually prevented them from having a heart attack. For only $50 (regular price: $94) through the end of February, you can get that same test done. Learn more about MDsave and other life-saving screenings on our website.

Y – Preventative care is crucial in anyone’s health. When you get a yearly exam, you allow your doctor to look you over and catch any abnormality or change in your body. Find a doctor you trust and make sure you visit at least once a year. Not only could this prevent heart attack, but you could catch other issues sooner. Preventative care is usually covered by insurance.

Z – Get enough sleep. When you’re catching enough Zzz’s, you give your body a chance to rest and your heart rate to dip. People who don’t sleep enough have a higher chance of heart disease regardless of their age.

Check out the resources below for more heart-healthy tips.

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