February is American Heart Month, providing us with a reminder to focus on cardiovascular health. With heart disease continuing to lead as the top cause of death in the United States, following a heart-healthy lifestyle is a smart approach to a longer, healthier life.
Most people are aware that eating well and staying active are important for heart health. But is there more we can be doing to take care of our hearts? Here is what the latest science tells us.
Know Your Numbers
It’s important to stay current with lab tests that determine heart disease risk including blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and others. These tests are like a window to your heart health, helping you and your healthcare providers take a proactive approach for heart health.
Stay Socially Active and Connected
Cardiovascular disease appears to increase with social isolation, especially when feelings of loneliness are present. Recently published studies have found that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of hospitalization or death from heart failure as well as heart attack or stroke, or death from either. Loneliness, even without social isolation, seems to increase cardiovascular risk as it is a psychological stressor.
Eat a DASH Diet
DASH (or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a healthy eating pattern designed to treat and prevent high blood pressure. Studies have shown that DASH can reduce blood pressure in less than two weeks and reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, both of which are significant risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The DASH diet consists of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, as well as low-fat and non-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans and nuts. The diet is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein and is low in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.
Get Adequate Shut Eye
Sleep is paramount to human health, including heart health according to newer research from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Poor sleep is linked to a greater risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, which are all heart disease risk factors. Now we know that treating sleep disorders and practicing good sleep hygiene, helping to ensure adequate sleep, can help promote heart health.
Prevent Stroke in Complicated Pregnancies
New findings reveal that women who experience pregnancy-related health problems like preeclampsia face a higher risk of stroke earlier in life compared to women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Plus, risk increases with each complicated pregnancy. It is recommended that women who have adverse pregnancy outcomes get referred immediately for stroke prevention.
The key to promoting heart health is in prevention. While we cannot change factors like age and genetics, many heart disease risk factors are related to lifestyle. New and emerging science continues to shape our understanding of how we can take control for better cardiovascular health. Celebrate American Heart Month by taking steps for better heart health for yourself and your loved ones.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.
LeeAnn Weintraub | Nutrition columnist LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. Email RD@halfacup.com.