February is Heart Month! It’s time to become heart healthy. In support of Heart Month and the Million Hearts initiative, a national effort to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes in the United States by 2017, we have decided to create a list of lifestyle changes you can make to be heart healthy this year because it was recently shown that half of heart disease deaths are due to modifiable risk factors that you can control. So, here are 10 lifestyle habits of heart healthy people:
- Avoiding all tobacco products, especially cigarette smoking. Smoking-induced heart disease is a well-known consequence of tobacco smoke and as many as 30% of all heart disease deaths in the United States each year are attributable to cigarette smoking.
- Measuring your blood pressure once a month to monitor for high blood pressure (blood pressure of ≥140/90 mm Hg). High blood pressure is the leading cause of death globally and the most important modifiable risk factor for heart disease. Recently, it has been shown that a lower blood pressure (systolic blood pressure of <120 mm Hg) is better for longevity and preventing heart disease. Be sure to ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be and, if prescribed medications, take your blood pressure medicine as directed.
- Managing your weight to a body mass index (BMI) of 18-25 kg/m2. An increased BMI (i.e. being overweight with excess body fat) is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
- Eating healthy. A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. The Balanced diet from the National Health Service (NHS) in England is effective and easy to follow. Recently, the Mediterranean diet was shown to reduce heart disease.
- Exercising. Staying physically active for at least 150 minutes at moderate intensity (target heart rate of 50-70% of your maximal heart rate) or 75 minutes at vigorous intensity (target heart rate of 70-90% of your maximal heart rate) each week. Even small amounts of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, but more exercise may lead to an even greater reduction in death from heart disease.
- Sleeping. Evidence suggests that sufficient sleep duration (≥7 hours) contributes to lower heart disease.
- Staying hydrated. Increased hematocrit and increased blood viscosity have been associated with cardiovascular events. High daily intake of water (five or more glasses), compared to a low daily intake of water (two or fewer glasses), was associated with a lower risk of heart disease deaths.
- Getting the influenza vaccine. Sadly, there is under-utilization of the influenza vaccination in many regions of the world including North America. It is widely believed that influenza vaccination should be encouraged wherever indicated, especially in people with existing heart disease and heart failure and it has been shown to offer protection against new-onset atrial fibrillation.
- Enjoying healthy relationships and environments. The quality and quantity of your social relationships has been linked overall health, and risk for death. Heart disease has been associated with stressful life events and social strain, job strain, and psychological distress at any point in life.
- Lastly, following the American Heart Association’s guidelines for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the American Heart Association’s national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction.
Overall, for men who don’t smoke, were physically active (walking/bicycling ≥40 minutes per day and exercising ≥1 hour per week), had a waist circumference under 37.4 inches, drank moderately (1/3 to 1 ounces per day), and ate a diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, fish, and whole grains had an 86% lower risk of heart attack than those who didn’t. For women, maintenance of a healthy lifestyle could lower the burden of heart disease by 73%. In summary, adherence to the 10 lifestyle habits of heart healthy people can lead to a significant reduction in death from heart disease. Take control of your health!