The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 8, 2013

Speaking of health: Heart Health: Tips to improve your ticker

Benjamin Wong, M.D., cardiologist
Mayo Clinic Health System

— According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease causes approximately one out of four deaths in the United States. Although this rate has been decreasing, the prevalence and risk factors are still quite high in our communities.

February is American Heart Month, so now is a great time to review the tips below to help you prevent heart disease and improve your well-being.

1. Exercise regularly. One of the main risks for heart disease and cardiac-related problems is obesity. Exercising on a regular basis is a great way to shed pounds and keep your heart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. These aerobic activities help maintain ideal body weight, enhance quality of life and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Quick tip: Take a 30-minute walk five days per week.

2. Eat a balanced diet. Stick to a low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and other sources of protein like nuts and seeds. Beware of added salt, sugar and saturated fats. Quick tip: Select grilled instead of fried entrees.

3. Stop smoking. Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, as well as a risk factor for cancer, stroke and diabetes. If you do smoke, there are resources to help you quit. You can visit smokefree.gov, quitplan.com or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free assistance on starting your smoking cessation plan. Quick tip: Tell friends, family and co-workers that you are trying to quit.

4. Maintain proper blood pressure levels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious condition that can lead to a number of cardiac issues, including a heart attack. Optimal blood pressure should be less than 130 over 80 Quick tip: Keep blood pressure in that desired range by staying physically active, managing stress, eating nutritious meals and not smoking.

5. Stay hygiene healthy. Washing your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 15 seconds can prevent bacteria, infections and viruses that affect the heart. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to reduce the presence of germs. Quick tip: Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice instead of counting the seconds while washing your hands.

6. Cut the cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program advises adults to check their blood cholesterol once every five years. When cholesterol levels are elevated, it can cause plaque buildup that may result in a heart attack. Exercising, eating right and quitting smoking all help to lower cholesterol. Quick tip: Look at saturated and trans fat information on food labels before purchasing them.

7. Manage stress. When we face stressful situations, our body releases adrenaline, which speeds up breathing and heart rate, as well as blood pressure. Although occasional stress is normal, chronic stress can damage your artery walls and lead to blood pressure problems. Quick tip: Get enough sleep and speak with loved ones about your daily stresses.

Taking proactive steps to prevent heart disease is one of the best choices you can make. Implementing the tips above will help to ensure your long-term health and well-being. If you have questions or concerns about heart health, it’s always best to speak with your primary health care provider.

Benjamin Wong, M.D., is a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System.

Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato will host a Speaking of Health presentation on heart health in the lower level conference center of the hospital on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.

For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.

Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.