All About Heart Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of all deaths in the United States are from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases.  Because February is Heart Health Month, it seems fitting to discuss what constitutes heart disease, the risk factors and how we can improve our heart health this year.

What is heart disease?

  • Coronary heart disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, is the most common form of heart disease where a fatty material called plaque builds up and can cause damage and block blood flow.
  • When an artery is blocked, it can cause chest pain and/or a heart attack.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

  • High blood pressure
    • About one in three U.S. adults have high blood pressure
    • High blood pressure is considered at or over 130/80 mm Hg, according to the American College of Cardiology
  • High cholesterol
    • High LDL or the “bad” cholesterol can increase risk
    • An optimal level for LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL
  • Diabetes
    • Adults who have diabetes are three times as likely to die of heart disease or stroke
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
    • Smoking raises triglycerides and lowers HDL “good” cholesterol, damages and thickens blood vessel walls, and increases plaque in the arteries
  • Obesity
    • Having a BMI over 30
  • Sedentary behavior
    • Little to no physical activity or movement
  • Poor dietary habits
    • A diet high in processed and fast foods and low in whole foods
    • Eating processed foods that are typically low in nutritional value and high in sodium, calories and added sugars

What changes can you make to help prevent heart disease?

  1. Talk to your doctor about your medical history. If you take medication to treat high cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions and never stop taking your medicine without talking to your provider.
  2. Start to make healthier food choices by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. Reduce processed foods that are high in added sugars and sodium.
  3. Move more! Aim for 150 minutes per week of physical activity with at least two days of strength training activities.
  4. Quit smoking! Talk to a medical professional about ways you can quit.
  5. Substitute sugary drinks and soda for water.

Bridgette Hamby, R.D.N., is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.

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