February is American Heart Month. Education and awareness are key to achieving and maintaining a healthy heart.
With some proactive steps, you can be heart healthy and feel great, too, experts say. Understanding your risk factors can help you to stay on top of your heart health.
“You should have full access to your patient records and be able to review your labs,” says Dr. Pilar Stevens-Haynes, F.A.C.C., director of echocardiography at Mount Sinai Heart at Mount Sinai South Nassau. Be aware of your cholesterol levels, diabetes screenings, family history, blood pressure, abdominal fat, and your Body Mass Index (BMI), which measures body fat according to height and weight.
“A lot of people don’t realize that their BMI is an independent risk factor for disease,” Dr. Stevens-Haynes says.
Screenings have become much more advanced. “A stress test is good for certain populations but in patients that feel fine it’s hard to pick up things,” Dr. Stevens-Haynes says. A coronary artery calcium score, for example, allows for a more in-depth scan of the heart. “It takes fine cuts so you can actually see vessels of the heart and measure the calcium,” which further assists in understanding risk factors, she notes. Get regular checkups and routine lab work, too.
Reducing inflammation and stress are critical components in maintaining heart health, says Darya Sterling, D.O., primary care physician at Peconic Bay Medical Center. “Maintain a diet rich in colorful plant foods that provide lots of antioxidants and fiber,” she suggests. Be sure to include omega-3 fatty acids—wild-caught fish, walnuts, or omega-3 supplements. “Dancing, walking, running around after children, parking far away, or taking stairs, are great ways to maintain an active lifestyle.” A good night’s sleep, limiting electronic use before bedtime, and avoiding tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake are significant steps you can take to achieve a healthy heart, Dr. Sterling notes.
It’s never too soon to take control of your heart health. “A game changer for heart health is understanding the benefits of healthy living as early as possible,” states Dr. Kimberly Joyner of Peds First Pediatrics in Medford. “When parents model heart healthy habits, their children are more likely to see these habits as second nature. Families can bond through cooking nutritional meals and exercising daily,” she suggests. It comes with a reward of good health and good memories, too. “The time together is priceless and it’s a gift that keeps on giving,” Dr. Joyner says.