First of all, when it comes to heart health and heart attacks, men and women are just NOT equal. The symptoms are completely different so we have to be educated. Men might feel that all known chest pain or shooting pain up an arm. Women, on the other hand, might feel chest pressure, but also indigestion, shortness of breath or simply fatigue while they are actually experiencing a heart attack.
You can see why the symptoms are so often ignored in women and most folks don’t even consider a woman having a heart attack.
Also, know that if you have heart disease in your family, like me, you’ll be glad to know that history of heart disease does NOT DOOM you to your own heart issues. While it MAY increase your own chances, two-thirds of heart disease risk factors are driven by your lifestyle — not your genes, says Dr. Mehmot Oz. You can cut your risk of heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise to keep your heart healthy. So, put a check by that one if you have a healthy lifestyle. If not, no time like the present to begin.
So, things to think about, things to do, things to tell those around you to do:
1. For an inexpensive, portable snack that will make your heart happy, choose nuts. Nuts can lower LDL levels — this is the “bad” cholesterol that can cause heart disease. Nuts also reduce the risk of blood clots and are also loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats and fiber. They do contain almost 80 percent of fat — though most is healthy fat — so nuts are best in moderation. Try snacking on a handful a day for heart-healthy benefits.
2. Most of us eat more more than double the daily recommended amount of added sugar– that’s almost 23 teaspoons of sugar daily, according to the American Heart Association. We all know that too much of a good thing is bad. In this case, it can raise blood glucose levels, contribute to weight gain and other unhealthy conditions. Cutting down on sugar culprits like desserts, syrups and coffee drinks can reduce your sugar intake.
3. Excess fat in the waist area can also lead to heart disease. The extra fat in the middle area produces chemicals that cause inflammation and harm internal organs. More than half of men and 70 percent of women in America between the ages of 50 and 79 have an unhealthy waist size. Slim down to reduce your risks. Get out the tape measure. If it’s 35 inches or higher, you are at a greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
5. The American Heart Association suggests adding fish into meals twice a week to improve heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish help people who regularly eat fish to be less likely to have heart disease. The type of fish you eat is less important than how it’s prepared: baked or broiled — not fried or smothered in creamy sauces — is your best bet.
6. Stop Smoking. I think in this day and age I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this. The benefits of quitting start just 20 minutes after your last cigarette as your blood pressure lowers, so it’s never too late.
7. The Mayo Clinic says that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. That is MUCH MORE than the recommended 2,300 for healthy adults. If you are over 51, have high blood pressure or diabetes that number should be 1,500mg. Packaged foods can pack a lot of salt into unlikely items, so read labels before purchasing or reach for low-sodium versions of your favorite items.
8. If your daily calories consist of more than 30 percent fat, you might be putting yourself at risk for heart disease. Cut down on your overall intake. When you do go for fats, aim for healthy ones like those found in avocados, nuts, olive oil and fish.
9. If you think I’m going to tell you to give up alcohol, you can relax. Moderate alcohol consumption can raise good cholesterol levels and protecting against artery damage and you can get these benefits with all types of alcohol. The kicker is to follow the American Heart Association’s recommendations for moderate drinking — no more than two drinks a day for men and one a day for women. So go ahead, pour yourself a glass of red — but put the bottle down after.
10. Know your numbers. Know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.
11. Try to swap out coffee for tea. I still have my coffee in the morning but have tea in the afternoon. Studies show that green tea might lower cholesterol levels, and both green and black teas are associated with a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke. Add tea to your diet, just NOT the typical Sweet Tea served in the South.
Whew! We made it through the list and high five to you if you are still here reading. I hope you have a big red check by all 11 points. I have a couple I always struggle with but I’m always a work in progress.
Are you heart healthy? Any other tips I need to add? Are you a lover or hater of Valentine’s Day?
Enjoy your day!