February is American Heart Month and heart disease is the number 1 killer in the United States. Not cancer, not accidents… heart disease. For many, this is a preventable disease. A healthy diet of whole natural foods, regular exercise and good quality sleep can go a long way to reduce the stresses on the heart, arguably the body’s most important organ. Sometimes these aren’t enough to keep the heart healthy. Here are some preconceived notions that many people have about heart health and what you really need to know to avoid heart disease.
1. Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure and high cholesterol many not have any outward symptoms until you suffer a heart attack. You may not have any idea that your cholesterol or blood pressure are a concern until they are measured, leaving you at risk without even knowing it. See your healthcare practitioner to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. Discuss your personal risk factors for cardiovascular disease to determine how often these tests should be done.
2. A low-fat diet may not protect you from heart attacks. For years it has been advised to eat low fat, but we now know that low fat does not necessarily mean heart healthy. Studies suggest that a low-fat diet will not do your heart any favors, although avoiding trans fats is still advised. Watch out for carbohydrate-rich foods such as refined grains and sugars. Many foods replace fat with sugar to make them low fat. But a high-carb and low-fat diet could be your heart’s worst enemy. Continue to eat good fats (like fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds) as part of a varied diet that also emphasizes protein, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid hydrogenated margarine, commercially prepared baked goods and fried foods, as they are common sources of heart-harming trans fats.
3. Men aren’t the only ones affected by heart disease. For every one woman to die of breast cancer each year, more than five will die of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women, so it is important for everyone to have a heart-healthy lifestyle!
4. Chest pain isn’t the only symptom of heart attacks. Most people associate heart attacks with these classic symptoms: chest pain, discomfort or pressure, but not everyone experiences the intensity of symptom. Women’s symptoms in particular may not fit this picture and, notably, may not include chest pain at all. A recent study revealed an alarming fact: patients without chest pain may not receive life-saving treatments in a timely fashion. It is important to get to know all the signs of a heart attack and know that a lack of chest pain doesn’t rule out a heart attack, especially in women. Call 911 immediately if you suspect a heart attack, and insist on having your heart checked if you think there is a problem.
Signs of a Heart Attack
Not all of these signs need to be present during a cardiac episode; however, common signs include:
• Chest pain (not always)
• Discomfort in upper body (jaw, shoulder, arm, stomach, back)
• Feeling faint
• Shortness of breath
5. Going to the gym may not be enough. Even though you may spend an hour at the gym a day, being sedentary for the rest of the day can still put your heart at risk. A recent study has shown that people who sit for long periods of time are more prone to develop diabetes, heart disease and a host of other problems, and those risks did not diminish even with exercise. So don’t stop going to the gym, but protect your heart from a sedentary lifestyle by getting up and walking around every 30 minutes. Can you stand instead of sitting? Could you have a walking meeting instead of booking the boardroom? Small shifts toward movement can have big effects on your cardiac health.
Photo from here, with thanks.