February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to focus on your cardiovascular health – and there’s a lot you can do to help maintain a healthy heart. Let’s begin with your diet. It’s really important to eat healthy, as in eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. You also need to know what not to eat, or at least what to eat less of, including less saturated and trans fats. In other words, cut back on red meat, full-fat dairy, less coconut oil, fried foods, packaged foods, margarine, certain bakery products and also cut back on the salt.
Secondly, get regular check-ups. At least once a year (and more if your doctor deems it necessary), get blood sugar and cholesterol screenings as well as your blood pressure checked.
Thirdly, if you’re a smoker, stop smoking! This unhealthy habit is a major contributor to an unhealthy heart. Nicotine makes the heart work harder and carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. The good news? Within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease decreases significantly.
Finally, exercise! Studies have shown that regular exercise may improve blood sugar regulation, promote healthy cholesterol levels, and help maintain a healthy weight, which is key to maintaining a healthy heart. Exercise also helps lower blood pressure (aka hypertension), which is very important because high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Speaking of strokes, what’s the difference between it, a heart attack, and heart failure? Here’s the long and the short of it. A stroke occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the brain. Much like the heart, the limited blood flow decreases the amount of oxygen going to the brain, and therefore depleting your brain tissue from the nutrients it needs. A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart is diminished or even cut off. When this happens, the lack of oxygen damages the heart resulting in a heart attack. Heart failure, or congestive heart failure (CHF), occurs when your heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. This is a condition where over time, arteries will narrow and the heart will be too weak to pump efficiently.