National Heart Month: Ways to Improve Heart Health

With February being National Heart Month, it’s important to reevaluate what you can be doing each day to improve your heart health. Many Americans don’t take their heart health seriously, which can lead to devastating consequences. In fact, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. To reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, and to help your heart perform at its best, there are a few easy ways to improve your heart health.

Eat dark chocolate

Researchers have found an association between dark chocolate and lowered blood pressure. The concentrated amounts of cocoa found in dark chocolate contain antioxidant compounds called flavanols. Flavanols produce nitric oxide, which helps to relax and widen blood vessels to lower incidents of heart attack and stroke.

Lower salt intake

Consuming too much salt can increase your risk of hypertension and damage to blood vessels. Most Americans consume twice the recommended amount of sodium every day, and more than 75 percent of that consumption is attributed to processed foods and dining out. It’s recommended that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, and that adults over age 50 consume less than 1,500 milligrams per day.

Shop smart, plan ahead and cook at home

On average, Americans dine out close to five times every week. But most restaurant meals have high levels of fat, sodium and sugar. So preparing your meals at home will reduce your consumption of these potentially harmful ingredients. Plan your meals ahead of time so you know exactly what to purchase once you’re at the grocery store.

Dine out smarter

Dining out is an enjoyable and social part of life, but it’s important to be smart about the choices you make. Don’t be afraid to ask the server questions about how the food is prepared. Find out if it’s sautéed, baked or fried, and if a sauce contains butter or cream.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise benefits the body in many ways, including boosting your heart health. Like any other muscle in your body, the heart grows stronger as you exercise. Exercising can help to increase the flexibility of the coronary arteries and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). If you’re just beginning, start off slow with the goal of simply moving more. Small changes, like walking a few blocks instead of driving and taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can make a big difference.

Get enough sleep

Over time, sleep problems can have adverse effects on your heart and your health. Lack of sleep can alter your metabolism, making you prone to weight gain, which can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Stop smoking

Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of coronary heart disease. It increases blood pressure, decreases your exercise endurance, and makes you more prone to developing blood clots. If you smoke, stopping is one of the best things you can do for your heart health.

In addition to these tips, it’s important to continue with regular checkups to monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure. Your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, levels should be 35 mg/dL or higher. Your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, should not exceed 110 mg/dL. Your systolic blood pressure (top number) should be below 120 and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) should be below 80.

If you’re concerned about your vascular health, don’t wait. Call the team at Baton Rouge Vascular Specialty Center at (225) 769-4493 to schedule an appointment today.