By Susan Young, RN, Health Coach, TeamHealth Wellness
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major focus of our health concerns for the past two years. It swiftly and unexpectedly brought more mental and physical illness and death, along with more social, work and financial restructuring than most of us have ever seen. In the face of this health threat, we must not lose sight of the very real and equally problematic threat of heart disease.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a broad term that encompasses several heart-related conditions, but most often refers to coronary artery disease. Collectively, these conditions are the leading causes of death for Americans, accounting for one in four deaths and one death every 36 seconds. Heart disease also continues to disproportionately affect minority Americans.
During the first months of the pandemic, there was a marked increase in deaths from heart disease when many people did not seek treatment for heart problems or stopped routine care. People who have serious heart conditions are also at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Because of this, it’s vital we reconnect with our healthcare professionals, our friends who have heart disease and the preventative resources available to everyone.
Tips to lower your risk
Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed, such as family history, sex and age. But, that doesn’t mean heart disease is inevitable. Learn tips to reduce your risk:
- Quit smoking. After a year without cigarettes, your risk of heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. For tips on quitting, view the CDC Guide to Quitting Smoking.
- Get active. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace. For example, walk briskly for 30 minutes each day, five days a week. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward this goal. Watch Move Your Way for motivation and tips.
- Eat better. A healthy diet can help protect your heart while improving blood pressure and cholesterol. Model your diet to include vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes, lean meat and fish, low fat and fat-free dairy foods, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. Limit your intake of salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated and trans fats (hydrogenated oils). Find some heart-healthy recipes.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 5% to 10% can help decrease certain fats in your blood (triglycerides), lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol and lower your risk for diabetes.
- Get good sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. So, make sleep a priority.
- Handle stress. Heightened stress can lead to heart disease and stroke. Use physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation to cope with stress in a healthy way.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. That means one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.
- Know your numbers. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. Chronic high blood pressure is called “the silent killer” because many people are asymptomatic and do not know they have it. A healthcare professional can check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose annually to screen and treat you for these problems.
- Be prepared. Someone has a heart attack every 36 seconds, and early action is key to survival. Know the symptoms of a heart attack and seek medical attention right away.
- Listen to your medical professional. Follow your healthcare professional’s treatment plan, such as taking prescribed medications and self-monitoring blood pressure. If you do not want to come into the office, consider virtual care or ask for other visit options.
Remember to care for your heart health
The magnitude of heart disease in America is a real problem. COVID-19 has our attention, but heart disease remains a concurrent threat to our health. The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of staying connected to your healthcare team and maintaining routine care. Prevention is always under our control, and if we focus our attention on taking small steps to reduce our risk of heart disease during the pandemic, we will stay safer and healthier.
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