February is American Heart Month, time to take your health to heart.
You have the power to reduce your risk of developing heart problems.
Marianne Shaughnessy is a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner at the Baltimore VA Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center. She has some simple tips to help start your journey to improve your heart health:
Learn about heart disease
Heart disease is also called cardiovascular disease. It includes high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery disease.
Certain risk factors increase your chance of developing heart disease.
Some risk factors you cannot control, such as your age, family, and gender.
Risk factors you can control include diet, activity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
What you learn can help you be a better partner with your health care team. Talk with your health care team about changes you can make to help you reduce your risk and improve your heart health.
Know your heart health numbers
- Lipid profile: for High Cholesterol, also known as Hyperlipidemia
- Blood glucose: for high blood sugar, also known as Diabetes
- Blood pressure: for high blood pressure also known as Hypertension
- Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories. By exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. A first step you can make to improve your heart health is to start walking. Walking with a friend makes the time pass quicker and increases chances that both of you will do it every day.
Heart healthy eating is simple; just eat what is good for your heart. Two ways to eat healthier is to read food labels and to eat the right balance of foods.
- Make vegetables and fruits about half of what you eat. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber — and they are also low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure and your blood sugar
- Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full
- Eat fish at least twice a week
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin
- Select fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Choose and prepare foods with little if any salt
- Learn to put together a heart-healthy plate (PDF)
“You have the power to reduce your risk of developing heart problems.”
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight you can reduce your risk for heart disease by losing weight and keeping it off.
- Knowing your Body Mass Index can help you gauge your body fatness. It is an easy way to check for excess weight
- Talk with your health care team about a fitness and food plan to help you lose weight and keep it off
Do not Smoke
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by
- lowering your ability to be active
- increasing your risk for having a stroke
- decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol
- increasing your risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm
VA offers smoking cessation programs to help you be successful as a “quitter.” Talk to your provider today about getting started.
- Track Health (My HealtheVet) allows a registered user to record and track your health information in one convenient location. Record your screening tests and immunizations for reference. Record and monitor your blood pressure, body weight and more in the Vitals section. Even see a graph of your progress. You can also journal your exercise routine and food intake in the Journals section. Using the Medical History logs, you could print out your entire record in a handy doctor’s sheet. My HealtheVet has provided dozens of way to manage your health care. Start tracking your health today!
- Exercising for a Healthy Life — learn how exercising and becoming more active may improve your health
- Managing Stress — a learning activity that shows you how to manage everyday stress
Your health care team will work with you on your journey to healthy living. They will work with you on your eating habits, weight control, and exercise program. Make sure you talk to your provider about your risk for heart disease. Your provider may also include medications to keep you healthy.
MOVE! is a national weight management program designed by the VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP), a part of the Office of Patient Care Services to help veterans lose weight, keep it off and improve their health.
Talk with your health care team today about taking a step for heart health.