Why is it important? For starters:
CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN.
ONE OUT OF EVERY FOUR deaths is due to cardiovascular disease. Let that sink in for a moment … 25% of deaths that occur are cardiovascular related … 25%! In today's age, this seems almost unbelievable given the amount of knowledge and information that is available on the subject.
We all know these statistics. We have heard them for years; they remain unchanged over time; which means as a people we have not changed. We choose to ignore these numbers and go about our day as if it will not affect us. But it will.
The chances are that you or someone you know will be affected by cardiovascular disease and as is generally the case by the time you learn of the problem it will probably be too late to make corrective actions. It's called reactive health care; we only take care of ourselves after the bad has already come.
In my opinion, switching our perspective and attention from reactive health care to preventative health care is the best solution to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease. We need to protect our hearts before it's too late. So what small preventive steps can you begin today to start taking control of your heart health, here's a few:
Know Your Numbers – Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Blood pressure and Cholesterol are the most common risk factors available to predict heart disease. But it's not enough to know the numbers you should understand what they mean.
Blood pressure that is considered normal is 120 / 80mm HG. Typically this number is read as “120 over 80.” The first number is the systolic number and the second is the diastolic number.
Pre-hypertension is defined as systolic blood pressure (top #) between 120 and 139mmHG and a diastolic blood pressure (bottom #) between 80 to 89mmHG. Any blood pressure over 140mmHG / 90mmHG is considered high blood pressure.
Pre-hypertensive individuals have twice the risk of developing high blood pressure compared to those with normal values (American Council on Exercise, 2010). Individuals with high blood pressure should see a doctor and will likely need medication to treat the high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, make sure to get a doctor's clearance before engaging in exercise.
There are basically two types of cholesterol, LDL which is considered the bad cholesterol and HDL which is considered the good cholesterol. There are three different cholesterol numbers you should be aware of: HDL, LDL, and your total cholesterol. Higher cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Heart Health?
Start by Eating More Healthy
Eating a healthy diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, it is recommended that you enjoy at least 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. In addition to this, foods that are high in fiber such as raspberries, pears, split peas, lentils, and artichokes will also help you stay full and improve heart health. One last healthy change is to limit the amount of salt or sodium you eat. It's not always easy to make major changes to your nutrition. If this is the case for you we recommend that you take baby steps by adding one healthy addition to your eating habits each week or two. Over time, making small changes and sticking with it will make big changes in your health and life. Remember to focus on what you can have (choose to have) rather than what you can not have (choose not to have).
Add Regular Exercise to Your Weekly Routines
Regular exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight and will help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers down. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults should participate in structured physical activity at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week or a vigilant intensity for at least 75 minutes per week to experience the health benefits of exercise (American Council on Exercise , 2010). This may sound like quite a bit if you're not a very active individual – but 150 minutes over a week breaks down into roughly 22 minutes per day. So if you're starting to exercise and want to get in good habits, take time to add a 20 minute walk every day. You'll be amazed at the impact this will have on you in only a few short weeks.
Changing even one of these behaviors can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Remember for most of us making major life style changes such as these all at once can be extremely overwhelming. So remember to take the “Baby Steps” approach when making these changes; Start by writing 1 or 2 small changes you can begin to implement and commit to making these changes for the next two weeks. Start there and once these changes become habitual, write down the next 1 or 2 small changes you'll make and add them to your weekly routine.
This is how the “Baby Step” process works. Make small, sustainable healthy changes in your life and after a while it will not require time and energy to think about the change, it just becomes something you do. Start today, use February's Heart Health month to take steps to take control of your heart health.