Make Heart Health a Priority in Your Life

Take steps to reduce your risk of heart disease

Did you know that heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the U.S.? According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease claims about 610,000 lives per year in the U.S., accounting for one in every four deaths.

February is American Heart Month. At the Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health, we want to help raise awareness of heart disease. Do you know the risk factors for heart disease? Or the warning signs of a heart attack? Raising our awareness is the first step in battling this serious disease.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?
There are several risk factors that can increase your chance of having heart disease or heart attack. According to the CDC, the following are the major risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • History of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Age

If you study the list of risk factors, you will see that some of them you can control (such as smoking), and others you can’t (such as age). Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to minimize your risk factors and choose heart-healthy options in life.

1. Get an annual checkup
Many people skip their annual checkups because they think they feel fine. Unfortunately, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are two “silent” conditions that you can have without knowing you have them. That’s why it’s important to see the doctor every year and get your blood tested. There are medications that can treat these conditions, so it’s better to find out as soon as you can. A simple trip to the doctor could save your life!

2. Memorize the warning signs of a heart attack
Your chances of surviving a heart attack are much better if you get medical help right away. But sometimes people can begin to have a heart attack and not realize what’s happening. They might dismiss the signals as heartburn or some other ailment, and delay calling 9-1-1, losing precious time. One way to help prevent this happening is to memorize the warning signs. Use the American Heart Association’s Catch the Signs Early list.

3. Improve your eating habits
Do you eat too much fast food and junk food? Are you counting French fries as your only vegetables? A heart-healthy diet should include at least five servings of a variety of vegetables each day, whole grains, and lean meats. We all know it’s easy to get into unhealthy eating habits, but believe it or not, it can be fun to eat healthfully too. Try partnering up with a friend to work together toward a healthier diet. The American Heart Association’s Eat Smart website has a lot of helpful and delicious suggestions.

4. Stop smoking
Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease and lung disease. If you are a smoker who finds it hard to quit, you are not alone! It will be hard work, but it will be worth it. There are a lot of supportive resources on the American Lung Association’s Stop Smoking website. Or you can see your doctor about ways to quit.

5. Don’t drink excessively
The recommended limit for alcohol is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. If you stay within these guidelines, you should be okay. If you are regularly exceeding these limits, talk to your doctor about a safe way to cut back.

6. Keep your body mass index in normal range
Do you know your body mass index (BMI)? There is a free Body Mass Index calculator on the American Heart Association’s website. Just enter your weight and height, and the calculator will tell you if you are in the normal range. If your BMI is too high, it may be time to begin a plan to shed some weight. Talk to your doctor about healthy diet and exercise programs.

7. De-stress
Unlike high blood pressure or body mass index, stress is a risk factor that is not measurable. But it still can impact your physical health. If you are constantly feeling “stressed out,” then it may be time to re-evaluate what’s going on in your life. Some people find stress relief through calming activities, like coloring or yoga. Others need to make bigger changes in their lives, like rearranging their work schedule or getting a different job. Finding time to focus on yourself can be challenging, but you will be glad you did it.

8. Make exercise part of your life
A sedentary, inactive lifestyle is bad for your heart. The American Heart Association’s heart-healthy guideline is 3 to 5 hours of moderate-level exercise every week. If you are out of shape, be sure to ask your doctor about a safe way to get started with an exercise program. Exercise does not have to be a hassle. If you work it into your everyday schedule, you may even find that you start to look forward to it! Here are some tips for sneaking exercise into a busy day.

9. Take your medications as prescribed
Despite your healthy lifestyle choices, it is still possible that you will have risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. If you are prescribed medication, then by all means you should take it! Make sure you follow the directions carefully and continue to get regular checkups so the doctor knows if the medication is working properly.

We hope these tips help you to adopt some new healthy habits that can last you a lifetime.


The Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health offers career-training programs for people wishing to become Nursing Assistants, Patient Care Technicians, and Practical Nurses. Contact us online to find out more about our programs.

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