February is Heart Month and the American Heart Association (AHA) has issued a challenge to Angelenos to make at least one healthy change to improve their heart health.
Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in Los Angeles and the country. But the good news is 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes. The AHA offers seven simple steps called Life’s Simple 7 to help people better their heart health.
To think of heart disease and stroke as America’s leading killers is alarming, until you factor in the good news: 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented. No matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to make better health choices. All you need is a goal, a plan and the desire to live a longer, healthier life.
For Heart Month, AHA challenges Los Angeles residents to commit to one simple lifestyle change for a start to improve your heart and brain health. It recommends seven factors called Life’s Simple 7 – to keep in check to significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to drop. In time, your risk will be about the same as if you had never smoked. Quit-smoking programs are available through hospitals, and many states have hotlines with trained staff to help.
Regular physical activity has many proven benefits including lowering blood pressure and reducing stress. The AHA recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week. Making small choices throughout the day like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or choosing the furthest parking spot will get you on the right track to heart healthy living.
Consume a wide variety of nutritious foods from each of the basic food groups. Eat at least 4.5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, at least two servings of fish per week and three 1-oz servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily. Limit sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day and sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than 36 ounces per week. Include unsalted nuts, legumes and seeds in your diet and choose unprocessed meats and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, you are more prone to health problems. You can reduce your risk by losing weight and keeping it off. It’s a matter of balancing what you eat with the energy that you burn. A high-risk waistline is 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 kg/m2 or greater, or about 30 pounds or more overweight.
Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. These changes may help reduce your blood pressure: staying physical active, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco smoke, and eating a heart-healthy diet, which includes reducing salt intake. Make a pledge to reduce sodium in your diet at www.heart.org/sodium.
Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body but too much cholesterol in the blood is a major risk for coronary heart disease and for stroke. A total blood cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or higher is too high. Levels of 200–239 are borderline-high risk. To keep your cholesterol under control: schedule a screening, eat foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat, maintain a healthy weight, and stay physically active.
Reduce Blood Sugar
A healthy non-diabetic adult should have a reading of less than 100 mg/dL. If your fasting blood sugar level is between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL, you have “pre-diabetes,” which increases the risk for developing diabetes and heart disease. It is critical for people with diabetes to have regular check-ups. Work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your diabetes and control any other risk factors.
Remember, you can stop heart disease before it even starts. Start small. And keep it simple. Make one change today and then challenge yourself to make another.
To learn more about Life’s Simple 7, go to mylifecheck.org. For more tips and resources on healthy living, visit heart.org/gettinghealthy.
The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – America’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or join us, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or any of our offices around the country, or visit heart.org.
The American Stroke Association is dedicated to prevention, diagnosis and treatment to save lives from stroke — a leading cause of death and serious disability. We fund scientific research, help people better understand and avoid stroke, encourage government support, guide healthcare professionals and provide information to enhance the quality of life for stroke survivors. We were created in 1997 as a division of the American Heart Association. To learn more, call 1-888-4STROKE or visit strokeassociation.org.