February is American Heart Month. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly half of all adults in the United States are living with cardiovascular disease, the #1 killer of Americans. This article will discuss some key strategies for preventing and managing heart disease.
The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the AHA have published the following guidelines recommended to prevent heart disease. These strategies include taking low-dose aspirin daily when advised by one’s medical provider; maintaining blood pressure below 130/80 and a healthy cholesterol level; refraining from smoking; managing weight and diet by including more fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, fish, and whole grains; controlling blood sugar if diabetic, and participating in 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
According to Supriya M. Tigadi, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health, “it is important to know your numbers. Having annual exams, checking cholesterol levels, controlling blood pressure, and taking prescribed medications as directed are very important to help prevent a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Tigadi stated.
If your blood pressure is high, it should be monitored regularly. A diet low in salt and limiting alcohol will help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Additionally, replacing animal fat (red meat) with plant-based fats is recommended, as well as limiting refined sugars.
According to the AHA, cholesterol levels should be checked between ages 9 and 11 and again between 17 and 21, plus every four years after age 20. This guideline may change based on family history. High cholesterol does not discriminate based on age or sex. Furthermore, those who are not overweight, and exercise, can still have unhealthy cholesterol numbers.
Even if taking medications for high blood pressure or to regulate cholesterol, it is important to eat a healthy well-balanced diet, lead an active lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Tigadi further commented that women can have warning signs of heart disease at a young age. Specifically, those who had pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or early menopause are at greater risk of a heart attack. “Education at 30 can prevent heart disease at 60,” Dr. Tigadi stated.
In review, risk factors for heart disease and stroke include but are not limited to having a family history of cardiac disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and chronic inflammatory conditions.
Speak with your medical provider if you have any concerns about your heart health. Additionally, the American Heart Association’s website, www.heart.org, is a great resource for information on heart disease including healthy living, caregiver support, and more.
Column is written by Laura Falt, director of business development in Connecticut. Laura welcomes the opportunity to be a resource to the community on services for older adults and is often featured in local publications.