Four ways to improve your heart health this year.

Your heart is a powerful muscle about the size of your closed fist. Its job is to pump the right amount of blood to all parts of your body, ensuring every area gets what it needs. This process is called circulation.

How the normal heart works.

Imagine it like this: your heart is a house with four rooms.

  • The two rooms on the top are called atria (“AY-tree-uh”, when talking about one, it’s called an atrium).  
  • The two rooms on the bottom are called ventricles.

Here’s how it works: the right atrium takes used blood that doesn’t have much oxygen left from your body and moves it to the right ventricle. From there, it’s sent to your lungs to pick up fresh oxygen.

Once the blood is oxygen-rich, it moves into the left atrium and then into the left ventricle. Consider the left ventricle as the main pump that sends this oxygen-rich blood back out to your body to keep you energized and healthy.

For everything to run smoothly, all four rooms of the heart need to work together in a specific order. When your heart is healthy, it’s good at this pumping job and can easily move blood to where it needs to go in your body. Heart failure is a lifelong condition in which the heart muscle can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can’t keep up with its workload.

The reality of heart health.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The CDC reported that one person dies every 33 seconds in the U.S. from Cardiovascular disease (CVD). It’s estimated that every year about 805,000 people have heart attacks in the United States alone, and about 200,000 of those people previously had a heart attack. The average age for heart attacks in males is 65.6 years and 72.0 years for females.

What is a heart attack?

The clinical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction. Heart attacks occur when a portion of the heart muscle is denied oxygen. Arteries supplying the heart become blocked from the buildup of fat deposits and cholesterol, often referred to as “plaque.” If a plaque breaks, clots can quickly form, which blocks blood from reaching the heart muscles, causing a heart attack. Starving the heart muscles of oxygen is called Ischemia. At this point, heart muscle cells are damaged and can die, with irreversible damage beginning within 30 minutes of Ischemia, showing why early detection and immediate evaluation are critically important.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Heart attacks can impact individuals differently. Approximately 1 in 4 people experience little to no symptoms. The common symptoms reported are:

  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest. The pain usually presents in the left or center of the chest and can last for a few minutes. The pain may go away and return. Tightness is akin to pressure on the chest or feeling like you are being squeezed.
  • Discomfort or radiating pain in the shoulder or arm. Radiating pain may present differently for each person. 
  • Shortness of breath. Difficulty inhaling enough to satisfy your need for oxygen.
  • Back, neck, or jaw pain.
  • Weakness, dizziness, vomiting, or fainting. It is more common for women to experience these symptoms. 

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911. The sooner you can be diagnosed and treated, the less damage your heart attack may cause. Do not be afraid of a “false alarm;” this is a perfect example of “better safe than sorry.”

What contributes to heart attacks?

For most Americans, our lifestyles support less healthy habits like:

  • Fast food consumption- we are busy, and fast food is convenient – it is also loaded with heavily processed ingredients and an excess of fat and calories.
  • We aren’t active enough- Americans generally live sedentary lives. Between sitting at work and binge-watching Netflix, we may not get the amount of exercise we need.
  • Being overweight- Poor diet and lack of activity can often lead to obesity.
  • Underlying health conditions- The rate of polychronic patients is rising. Polychronic refers to patients with more than three chronic conditions, such as diabetes, CVD, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, etc. Most of these conditions can be well-managed or even prevented by working with your Primary Care Provider.

How do I prevent a heart attack?

Prevention is the best course for ensuring good heart health and changing patterns of behavior lowers your risk for heart disease and heart attack. Medicine is all about risk management, and lifestyle changes reduce your risk of developing poor heart health. Changing patterns of behavior will help you reach this goal. You can choose healthy habits to help prevent heart disease, like:

  1. Choose healthy foods and drinks.
  2. Keep a healthy weight.
  3. Get regular physical activity.
  4. Manage your stress levels.

Choose Healthy food and drink options.

Support your heart health and prevent complications by eating nutritious meals and snacks. Prioritize a diet rich in fresh produce while minimizing processed food intake.

  • Look a bit closer at your diet. Do you eat enough vegetables and fruits? Try substituting fried foods for baked options. Reducing your caloric intake can lead to weight loss and better cholesterol levels overall. Make a habit of reading food labels and learning more about what eat.
  • Try substituting beef once a week for a fish protein that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids like Salmon, Cod, Tuna, and Trout, etc. If you’re not a fan of fish, omega-3 fatty acids are also present in flaxseed, chia seeds, and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids boost your HDL (the good cholesterol) and can improve your heart health.

Keep a healthy weight.

If you’re carrying extra pounds, your heart has to work harder. This added strain increases the risk of heart disease. It’s like carrying a heavy backpack all the time, putting pressure on your heart and the tubes that carry your blood.

To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, you can calculate your BMI, Body Mass Index here

Get regular physical activity.

When sitting for extended periods, get up and stand for a period of time. Perhaps during breaks in the workday or commercials, you can walk around your office or home. Standing for even a brief time can improve circulation and give you most of the benefits of regular daily activity. If you work at a desk, set a reminder to get up and move every hour. 

You don’t have to join a gym to exercise. Your personal exercise program should take into consideration your age, physical ability, and overall health. Discussing an exercise program with your doctor during your physical exam is wise. Your doctor can provide insight to what exercise programs will work best for you. Some examples of exercise programs that may appeal to you are:

  1. Yoga – Yoga is a wonderful low-impact way to build strength, improve flexibility and balance, and get a workout!
  2. Water Aerobics/Exercise – Water exercise is a fun activity that is great for people with limited mobility. The water helps offset weight, making it easier to stand. Also, the water can work as resistance helping to build strength.
  3. Bike riding – Riding a bike is ideal for those that want to get out and adventure. Today electric motor assist bikes like Rad Power Bikes, can help riders of all levels tackle hills and other obstacles that oftentimes deter people from riding bikes. Stationary bikes can afford much of the same benefits without worrying about the weather.
  4. Walking – Walking is easier on your joints as there isn’t as much impact compared to running. Power walking is walking at a brisk pace to elevate one’s heart rate. Weight-bearing exercise like this is also important for bone density and joint health.
  5. Weightlifting – Regardless of your physical condition, lifting weights is a great form of exercise. A word of caution: if you have not lifted before or just starting out, consider hiring a personal trainer. A trainer helps ensure you have the proper technique to avoid injuries and can construct a training program that will yield the best results.

Manage your stress levels.

Stress has a strong influence on multiple health conditions, and acute stress can even trigger a heart attack. But, how does one actually ‘manage’ stress? If you are prone to stress and it seems that it’s a common occurrence in your life, you may want to consider seeking professional help from a behavioral therapist. Therapists can offer help through tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that will help you manage stress by re-focusing on less stressful narratives.

Don’t forget…

Prevention is the best course for ensuring good heart health. A good start is to schedule a checkup with your Primary Care Provider or a think physician and seek their advice on your medical and physical limitations to identify which activities may be suitable for you. 

The most important takeaway is that there is still time to care for your health.

If you would like to self-schedule an appointment with one of our select physicians in the self-scheduling program, visit https://phreesia.me/OnlineSchedule.

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