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February is Heart Health Awareness month, so now is a great time to complete a status check on one of the most important organs in your body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. It continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women. That’s more than 647,000 people each year! Take time to consider the following information and tips to ensure you’re making efforts to keep your heart as healthy as can be.

Prevention

Start making basic lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart disease and subsequent issues. These strategies benefit other areas of your life as well, so you’re actually doing your entire body a favor by focusing on heart health.

  • Avoid tobacco. If you currently smoke, chew tobacco, vape, or use other tobacco products, quit right away — your health care team can help. If you don’t smoke now, keep it that way.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Heavy alcohol use is detrimental to your heart health. Although some research indicates moderate consumption of certain alcoholic beverages may have positive health effects, limiting your intake to a maximum of one drink per day or abstaining from alcohol altogether is best.
  • Be active. Try to do aerobic exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five times per week. Work your way up to 150 minutes of cardio each week. Get your heart rate up by a simple activity like walking at a brisk pace. Your daily movement doesn’t need to be overly strenuous.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Like your checkbook, your weight is a matter of deposits and withdrawals. You need to exercise regularly and lower portion sizes and calorie intake at meals to lose weight or maintain a healthy size. Simply put, to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. Healthy and fresh food choices — such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes — lower your risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, as well as make you feel better than when you eat processed and junk food.
  • Control your risk factors. Get physical examinations or checkups at least yearly. Doing so will help you monitor health conditions and allow your provider to examine you for high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and diabetes. If you have these conditions, talk to your health care team about medicines and lifestyle changes to help you control them, which will lower your risk for heart disease.

Family history

While neglecting the aforementioned prevention tips poses major risk factors, family history — although uncontrollable — can be problematic. This makes staying on top of heart health increasingly important. A family history of heart disease puts you at an elevated risk, and you’re even more susceptible if a male family member developed heart disease before age 55 or a female family member developed heart disease before age 65.

Complications of heart disease

Heart disease can result in significant complications and death. Complications include heart failure, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease and sudden cardiac arrest.

Use this information to put your heart at the forefront of your wellness improvement plan. If you have questions or concerns, contact your primary care provider. And if you’re experiencing a heart emergency, call 911 immediately.

Niti R. Aggarwal, M.D., is a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. For more information, visit mayoclinichealthsystem.org.

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