Community Health & Wellness

Wellness Wednesday | Heart health awareness: Education and tips for a healthier future

Posted on February 14th, 2024 By: Scot Fleshman

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. With that singular statistic, it is vital that we focus on February as American Heart Month.

This awareness month was “established by President Lyndon B. Johnson under Presidential Proclamation 3566 in December 1963.” With that in mind, we are using February to educate, generate awareness, and share tips to encourage healthy lifestyle choices that support heart health.

Understanding heart health

Several conditions are related to heart health. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • High blood pressure: Consistently high blood pressure (130/80 mm Hg or higher) damages the lining of your heart’s arteries, which can lead to plaque buildup more quickly. This damage increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • High cholesterol: Elevated bad cholesterol (LDL) levels can build up fatty deposits in your blood vessels. This restricts blood flow, and these deposits can break off, leading to stroke or a heart attack.
  • Stroke: When the blood flow to your brain is disrupted or stopped, a stroke has occurred and can happen at any age. Plaque buildup from high blood pressure or high cholesterol cause the most common type of stroke. Ischemic stroke.
  • Coronary artery disease: CAD is a common heart condition that affects the major blood vessels that supply your heart. It’s typically caused by a buildup of plaque called atherosclerosis, which reduces blood flow to your heart and other areas of your body. Symptoms tend to differ in men versus women. For example, men have the typical chest pain associated with heart problems, while women can also show shortness of breath, nausea, and extreme fatigue in addition to chest pain.

Heart conditions impact both men and women across all ethnicities. While the “annual incidence of sudden cardiac death is higher in men than women…this difference begins to narrow with advancing age.” Your age, sex, family history, and lifestyle all come into play for your risk factor for heart issues. No matter your gender or heritage, you need to assess your lifestyle for risks that can increase your potential for developing these diseases.

The positive news is that many heart health issues can be reduced or prevented with regular efforts to support healthy lifestyle choices and changes.

Lifestyle tips for healthy hearts

Stop smoking and tobacco use: Even second-hand smoke exposure increases your risk of damaging your blood vessels and heart.

Exercise regularly: 30-60 minutes of exercise daily that increases your heart rate helps to keep that muscle healthy.

Heart-healthy diet: Focus the main part of your diet on vegetables (including beans and legumes) and fruits, lean meats/fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive or avocado oil. Eat less high-sodium foods, sugar, sweetened beverages, highly refined carbohydrates or processed foods, alcohol, saturated fat, and trans fat.

Healthy weight: You can use a BMI tool to determine if you are considered overweight as well as waist circumference to determine if you have an elevated risk. If you’re unsure about what a healthy weight is for you, speak with your primary care provider at your next wellness check.

Quality sleep: Lack of quality sleep increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and more. Ensure you create a healthy sleep routine and address potential sleep issues with your doctor.

Reduce stress: Stress is the cause of many health problems. Finding healthy ways of managing and coping, like meditation, counseling, exercising, or journaling, are better options than overeating, overdrinking, or smoking.

Regular wellness checks: At your routine wellness checks with your primary care provider, you can receive screening tests for blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, which can help reduce your risk or catch problems early on.

Identifying symptoms and seeking care

Contact your doctor immediately if at any time you experience the following:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, and chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly area or back
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, coldness, or unexplained swelling in the legs, arms, hands, or feet
  • Problems with vision, speaking, moving, or understanding others

Prevention is the best option for avoiding complications from heart-related health issues. Always schedule and attend regular wellness checkups with your primary care provider. Be proactive and ask for screening tests if you know you have a family history of heart disease. Support those taking action for their health.

Scot Fleshman

The Wellness Wednesday column is written by Scot Fleshman, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and board-certified family nurse practitioner. Fleshman and his wife, Jessica Hopkins, own Gig Harbor Primary Care.