If you didn’t get a chance to show support for American Heart Month by wearing red on February 3rd, you can still take action to promote a healthy heart every day. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 1 in 4 deaths of men and women. Even more staggering is how highly preventable heart disease is through exercise and healthy diet choices. If you or someone that you know is at risk for heart disease, there are many simple steps that you can take to live a healthier life.
One of the first steps you should take is to monitor your blood pressure. Everyone over the age of 18 should monitor their blood pressure regularly. The baselines vary from person to person and the guidelines have changed in recent years, so it is best to consult a doctor about what should be your “normal.” High blood pressure can lead to a heart attack. I’ll save you from the super science-y details, but basically high blood pressure causes a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, which makes them narrower and thus blood clots are more likely to form. If plaque or a blood clot blocks an artery, the flow of blood through the heart stops, which causes serious damage or death to the heart muscle.
Regular physical activity reduces blood pressure because the heart becomes stronger and can essentially pump more blood with less effort, decreasing blood pressure. Everyone knows that it is better to park farther away from your destination, or to take the stairs instead of the elevator, but small changes like this can truly make a difference in the long run. 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity are recommended per week, but even walking around campus during a 20-minute break is better for your heart than sitting on your laptop.
There are many amazing food options to help lower blood pressure as well. I have recently learned that healthy food doesn’t have to taste like diet food! The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute conducted three studies and found that the DASH Eating Plan prevents and treats high blood pressure, lowers blood cholesterol, and can help people lose weight when combined with physical activity. The US News and World Report even voted it the bets diet for 8 years in a row! The diet basically recommends increasing intake of foods that are good for you and limiting foods that aren’t as good for your heart. The word “diet” brings to mind a bunch of salads and expensive, tasteless snacks, but the DASH options actually sound delicious. They include margherita pizza, lemon cheesecakes, halibut with tomato-basil salsa, and white chicken chili. For more recipe ideas, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes/dash-diet-recipes/rcs-20077146.
Lastly, everyone should take a CPR class and learn how to use an automatic external defibrillator so that you have the skills to save someone if you see them go into cardiac arrest. An in-person class takes about 1-2 hours, and it is offered on-campus during the Spring semester at a discounted price. You can also take one online at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr/cpr-training/cpr-online.