February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to focus on heart health. Heart disease (cardiovascular disease, or CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Cardiovascular disease accounts for about one in three deaths every year and nearly one million deaths in 2020, according to the American Heart Association.
The good news is more than 80% of heart disease can be prevented.
The goal of American Heart Month is to prevent heart disease by creating a better understanding of risk factors and providing ways to live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Desiree Dizadji is a cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin in Racine. She is board-certified in cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology and internal medicine, and encourages all of her patients to live a healthy lifestyle to improve their heart health.
“There are ways to lower your risk of developing heart disease and improve your overall health and well-being at the same time,” Dr. Dizadji said. “The first step is watching what you eat.”
Dr. Dizadji said that diet is very important when it comes to heart health. Making better choices about what you’re putting into your body can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. Choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium, and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich whole grains is a good way to get your diet on track. This can be as simple as substituting a side salad for french fries the next time you’re out to lunch with friends.
The next step is to exercise regularly. Dr. Dizadji recommends incorporating 30 minutes of physical activity, five times per week, into your daily routine to remain heart healthy. This does not have to mean vigorous exercise. Exercise can be anything that gets your body moving, and it can be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking the dog a few extra minutes through your neighborhood.
Dr. Michael Papp is a board-certified cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin in Racine. He provides specialty care for heart and blood vessel diseases to prevent heart attack and stroke.
“One of the most impactful things you can do to prevent heart disease is to stop smoking,” Dr. Papp said. “People who quit smoking significantly reduce their risk of heart disease.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause blood vessels to swell, making them narrow and more difficult for blood to flow through, which can lead to a variety of issues. Being smoke-free can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as cancer and chronic lung disease.
Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can also help prevent heart disease. “Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. It can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle. I recommend only moderate drinking, which is defined as an average of one drink per day for women and one or two for men,” Dr. Papp said.
Next, you should try to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For overweight or obese adults with other risk factors such as high blood pressure, a weight loss of 3-5% of body weight can produce clinically significant results against heart disease prevention. Losing unnecessary pounds takes away the extra work for your body, mainly on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and bones.
Know your numbers
Finally, manage other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. All of these are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and all can be managed through a healthy diet, physical activity, and in some cases, medication.
It is important to remember, wherever you are on your journey toward a healthier version of yourself, it’s never too late to start or finish that process. It could save your life.
“You’re never too young or old to make lifestyle changes that can help prevent heart disease,” Dr. Dizadji said. “Lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on the health of your heart, now and in the future.”
To learn more about how you can prevent heart disease or schedule an appointment with a cardiologist visit ascension.org/WisconsinHeart.
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