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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

You’ve showered your family, friends and coworkers with love in the form of greeting cards, flowers, treats or maybe some much-needed quality time spent together.

Now is the time to show yourself a little love in honor of American Heart Month. Cardiovascular disease refers to a number of conditions, all of which involve compromised blood flow, putting a person at risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. More often than not, these conditions can be prevented by becoming informed and using that information to make healthy lifestyle decisions—living heart smart.

Know the risks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of the conditions and behaviors that put people at risk for cardiovascular disease are being seen at younger ages than in the past. These include:

High blood pressure: Having uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including conditions that lead to stroke.

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels: Some factors that contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels are diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and an unhealthy eating pattern.

Smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and can lead to a range of cardiovascular diseases.

Get (and stay) heart smart

Now that you know the risks, here are some helpful hints to start you on your journey to becoming heart smart.

Talk to your doctor: As mentioned before, becoming informed is the first step. The only way to know if you have consistently high blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels that are outside the healthy range is to have these tested by a qualified health professional who can help you understand your readings.

Make healthy eating pattern shifts: Aim to adopt an eating pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, fat-free or low-fat dairy products and healthy oils. Make a habit of reading food labels to start understanding where you may be getting extra sodium (salt), added sugars and saturated (solid) fats—all of which you’ll want to cut back on for the sake of your heart.

Be physically active: Research shows physical activity is a key component in preventing cardiovascular disease and contributes greatly to weight control over the lifespan. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and remember to choose activities you can truly enjoy. The more you enjoy it, the easier it is to stick with it.

Don’t smoke: Waste no time quitting smoking. Research shows that within a few years of quitting, your risk of stroke and other smoking-related cardiovascular diseases will look more like that of non-smokers.

It’s never too late to start making shifts toward a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes you’ll find the shift needed is a rather small one, while other shifts may feel like big sacrifices. When the sacrifice feels too great, try adjusting your focus to all the positive things gained by getting (and staying) heart smart—feeling good in your own skin, peace of mind regarding your long-term health, physical capabilities, and independence, and more time to spend both doing the things you love and being with the ones you love. Who can put a price on that?

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