Taking your Health to Heart

Posted on February 20, 2024

Contributed by Nicole Brigham, RDN, LDN

February is American Heart Month and is also a perfect time to be reminded to check in with our own heart health to make sure we understand the serious risks of heart disease. This is also a great time to take practice in some steps that focus on bettering your heart health with smart ways to live a healthier lifestyle! This month, we focus on CVD (Cardiovascular Disease), a heart disease that affects our blood vessels making us more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes, which happens to be the number one killer of Americans today. With some healthy lifestyle adjustments, you can cut down your risk of heart failure and other effects of CVD. 

Know your risk

A great way to begin with bettering your own heart health is to know your own personal risk for developing CVD. If you know you’re at a higher risk than others, you can take early steps to control and maintain good heart health. A better understanding of your risks can help you in taking steps to living a healthier life and help to minimize or eliminate some of these risk factors.

  • High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes – If you have one or more of these you are at higher risk for developing CVD. Work with your health care provider to manage these and make sure to take your medications as prescribed.
  • Smoking.
  • Overweight or obese.
  • Not enough physical activity.
  • Not eating a healthy diet.
  • Women over 55 and men over 45 – Risk increases with age.
  • If your father/brother had heart disease before the age of 55, or if your mother/sister did before the age of 65.

Knowing your own personal risk for CVD will help you to focus on these suggestions for helping to prevent CVD from developing. These recommendations can also just help you in living a healthier lifestyle in general. 

  • Eat healthy – Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Minimize the amount of processed, canned, and fast foods to decrease the sodium and sugar in your diet.
  • Be active – The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, which breaks down to about 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes for 5 days a week. If you are not very active, you can start with simple walks outside and gradually increase the duration and type of activities you participate in. Also, include weight bearing exercises a couple times a week to increase muscle tone. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Maintaining a healthy weight with a BMI 25 or below can help lower your risk for CVD. Losing 5-10% of your bodyweight, if you are overweight or obese, can help decrease your risk as well. Following a healthy heart diet and increasing physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking and minimize secondhand smoke – Within a year of quitting tobacco use (cigarettes, vaping or any inhaled tobacco use), you will decrease your CVD risk by about half. 
  • Decrease your stress and get good sleep - Lack of sleep and increased stress are associated with a high risk of developing CVD. Try to make sure you are getting around 7-9 hours of sleep per night (more for children) and choose activities that can help minimize stress in your life. 
  • Health checks – Make sure you are seeing your doctor regularly so they can help you monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Make sure you share your family history with them, so they know your risk for developing CVD. 

About the Author

Nicole Brigham, RDN has been part of the nutrition team at Melmark for over four years. Nicole is an Arizona State University graduate where she received her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies as well as a BS in Dietetics. For fourteen years, Nicole has enjoyed working at a dietician with her staff and with the residents of Melmark. In her free time, Nicole enjoys reading, playing tennis (or any racquet sport), volunteering in the community, and traveling with her family.