The heart is a muscle that some of us forget to appreciate until it is broken. In 1963, Congress instructed the president to declare each February American Heart Month to encourage citizens to join in the battle to reduce the devastating impact of cardiovascular disease. Even though cancer threatens to overtake the lead in 2010, cardiovascular disease, including stroke, remains the leading cause of death in the United States.
Putting it in human terms makes the statistics more real. According to the American Heart Association, 2 out of 3 men and 1 out of 2 women who reach the age of 40 can expect to develop cardiovascular disease.
In light of these statistics, I asked Dr. David Sabgir, a board-certified cardiologist who created the Walk with a Doc Program, how to avoid a broken heart.
Here are the five steps he recommended:
1. Walk more. Exercise is essential for good heart health. Walking benefits the heart in many ways. It raises HDL (good cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, regulates glucose levels and decreases stress.
2. Laugh more. Mental stress damages the endothelium, which is the inside of our blood vessels. This damage can lead to inflammation that can cause fat and cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries and ultimately lead to a heart attack.
3. Cut back on fattening foods and add more fruits and vegetables to your plate. Loaded with nutrients, low in fat and high in fiber, fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy-heart diet.
4. Monitor your health measurements and test results. Control your blood pressure through changes in lifestyle and/or medicine. Manage your weight and get rid of surplus pounds. Compare the results of periodic cholesterol tests to make sure your numbers are headed in the right direction.
5. Moderate alcohol consumption. If you do not drink, do not start. If you do drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Alcohol in moderation lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The best part of Dr. Sabgir’s advice is that his suggestions are easily implemented. None of them cost a lot of money, require expensive equipment or take a lot of time. Yet once adopted, the five steps will protect your most valuable asset—a healthy, happy heart.
Join me in celebrating American Heart Month by taking your own steps to avoid a broken heart.