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Take Care of Your Heart

heart shape made of several conjoined hands

Tips to prevent heart disease

By Dr. Kingston Okrah, interventional cardiologist at Ascension Medical Group, Wisconsin
02/15/2022

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States – and it can strike at any age. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all Americans (47 percent) have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease, whether it’s high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking.

If you have symptoms or are unsure about your heart disease risk, talk with your personal doctor. Knowing your risk for heart disease could save your life.

Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control. Here are some common factors that contribute to a greater risk of heart disease.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol and/or high blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Tips to improve overall heart health

There is no better time than now to take care of your heart. Here are the top four things you can start doing today to keep your heart healthy.

  • Get vaccinated, get boosted
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Quit smoking and alcohol consumption

Get vaccinated, get boosted

Get vaccinated and/or boosted to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. There is also still time to get influenza (flu) and pneumonia vaccines. Both of which can keep you healthy and out of the hospital. If you have heart disease, getting COVID-19, the flu or pneumonia can put you at greater risk for a heart attack.

Eat healthy

Limit consumption of red meat and processed food. Incorporate plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts into your diet. These are all great foods for heart health. Making small changes and setting attainable goals to eat healthier can improve your diet. Substituting whole grain pasta for regular pasta is a good first step.

Removing a serving of carbs, like pasta or rice, and substituting it with a grilled or roasted vegetable is still filling and adds more nutritional value to your meal. Reduce the number of saturated fats by cutting back on meat and potatoes and going vegetarian one meal a week.

Exercise

Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. It’s also important to keep up your cardiovascular activity, especially during the winter. A recent study showed that if everyone between ages 40 - 85 were active for just 10 more minutes per day, it could save more than 110,000 lives a year. Find ways to stay active no matter the season. Sign up for a local gym membership that has an indoor pool, track and other amenities to keep your heart healthy. If it’s not too icy outside, go for a brisk walk with a neighbor, friend or your spouse. You can also search YouTube for simple, at-home cardio workouts.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption

Smoking increases the risk for heart disease and heart attack as it damages the heart and blood vessels. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop smoking. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease. Binge drinking can also lead to an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of arrhythmia that causes an irregular, often fast heartbeat that can increase the chance of blood clots and stroke.

Don’t delay care

Delaying import heart care can lead to more serious health concerns down the road. Please remember, a heart attack is an emergency and the hospital is the safest place to receive care. Dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or a loved one are experiencing any signs of a heart attack such as chest pain or discomfort; lightheadedness; nausea or vomiting; jaw, neck or back pain; discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder; or shortness of breath.

To learn more about heart attack prevention and other ways to keep your heart healthy, visit heart.org/ascension. To schedule an appointment with an Ascension Wisconsin cardiologist, call 414-298-7230.

About the Author

Dr. Kingston Okrah is a cardiologist who cares for patients at Ascension Medical Group - Ninth Avenue in Oshkosh. He provides general cardiology, interventional cardiology and peripheral vascular care to adults. Dr. Okrah has a special interest in treating heart and vascular diseases, including heart attacks and peripheral artery disease.

At the time of publication, Dr. Okrah is accepting new patients.

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