February is Heart Health Month, and Primary Care Partners encourages patients to celebrate by taking charge of their heart health today! Did you know that heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States, especially for women? The good news is that heart disease is preventable, and by taking just a few small steps, you can improve your heart health and avoid conditions such as high blood pressure, which can lead to more serious heart conditions like heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

How do you know if you’re at risk for heart disease? It’s important to familiarize yourself with the risk factors for heart disease, and to know when you should talk to your doctor.

The Risk Factors for Heart Disease Include:

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to more serious complications. Ideally your blood pressure should be 120/80 or less. Talk to your PCP healthcare provider to determine what a health blood pressure range is for you, and if it’s too high, how to bring it under control.

Family history – it’s important to know if there is a history of heart conditions in your family because you could potentially have the same conditions. Learn your family history of heart disease and be sure to share them with your healthcare provider.

Smoking – If you smoke, quitting smoking is the most controllable risk factor for heart disease. Smoking causes blood vessel constriction, which can limit blood flow. Call the Colorado QuitLine at 1-800-784-8669 for help with quitting and talk to your provider about putting a stop smoking plan in place.

High cholesterol – Just like with blood pressure, it’s important to know your cholesterol levels. A healthy range for total cholesterol is 200 mg/dl.

Sedentary lifestyle – you’ve probably heard that “sitting is the new smoking”, so it’s important to get up and moving if you’ve been sitting for too long. Increasing your steps by just 500 a day decreases the risk of dying from heart problems by 7%.

Diabetes – Having diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on managing your diabetes. To learn even more on how to manage diabetes, check out Nutrition Health and Wellness’s “Living Your Best Life with Diabetes” classes here.

Obesity – Excess body fat can lead to heart disease. Talk with your healthcare provider about what a healthy weight looks like for you and discuss a weight loss plan if needed.

Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

Exercise – One of the best things you can do for your heart health and your health as a whole is to get regular exercise. Exercise can take many forms and you don’t have to hit the gym or own fancy workout equipment to get a beneficial workout in. Walking for 30 minutes a day, for at least five days a week can be beneficial to heart health. Even more exercise is better, but some is better than none!

Eat for heart health – Try to eat a “rainbow” of fruits and veggies each day. East at least one color of fruits and vegetables each day. Include heart-healthy foods like salmon, walnuts, leafy greens, olive oil, avocados…and dark chocolate (you’re welcome).

Limit alcohol consumption – Avoiding alcohol altogether is the best way to help prevent heart disease, but if you choose to drink alcohol, limit consumption to no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. In general, one drink equals one 12oz beer (5% ABV), one 5oz glass of wine, or 1.5oz of 80-proof liquor. Contrary to popular belief, red wine as a heart healthy drink choice is a myth.

Maintain oral health – did you know that your oral health can affect your heart health? Make sure to brush and floss twice a day and get dental cleanings/check ups done twice a year.

Lower your blood pressure – Try a daily 10-minute meditation or practice deep breathing techniques. These aren’t just trendy tactics–they lower the stress hormones linked to heart disease. Reducing salt intake can also help prevent high blood pressure. Try to limit intake to around 2,000mg a day, which is equivalent to around 1 teaspoon. Pay special attention to food labels to make sure you’re staying under the recommended limit, some foods have more salt than you might think!

For more heart health tips that you can start using now, visit the American Heart Association.

Ask your doctor about ways to improve your heart health – You healthcare provider knows best about your heart health and what steps you can take to improve it, and prevent the potential for heart disease. If you believe you are at risk for heart disease, start the conversation about improving your heart health, including whether or not you might be eligible for certain heart health diagnostic tests like an echocardiogram, by contacting your Primary Care Partners healthcare provider today!