February may be known for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also American Heart Month. That means this is the perfect month to get serious about heart health if you never have before, and it’s also a perfect reminder to check your numbers and to spread the word to family and loved ones. If you’ve never really thought about heart health, you might be unsure where to start. Here are our top tips to show your heart some love this February.
Know Your Numbers
The best way to measure your heart health is to know your numbers and have them checked regularly. What numbers are we talking about? There are four main factors that play a big role.
- Blood Pressure - Ideal numbers for most adults are 120 / 80. If your top number is between 120 and 129 and your bottom number is less than 80, your blood pressure is elevated. If your top number is between 130 and 139 or your bottom number is between 80 and 89, you have stage one hypertension (or high blood pressure). Stage two is when your top number is above 140 or your bottom number is above 90. If you see a top number above 180 or a bottom number above 120 (or both) that’s a hypertensive crisis and you should seek medical help immediately.
- Cholesterol - For adults, aim for a total cholesterol level of 125 to 200mg/dL. Non-HDL should be less than 130mg/dL. LDL should be less than 100mg/dL. For men, HDL should be 40mg/dL or less, while women should aim for 50mg/dL or less.
- Blood Sugar - Blood sugar and heart health are closely linked. Your number will likely change throughout the day. When fasting (no food or drinks for at least 8 hours), your number should be between 70 and 100. If it’s between 101 and 125, you may be pre-diabetic. Anything higher than 125 is likely to be diagnosed as diabetes.
- Body Mass Index (BMI) - Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height (in meters) squared. A normal BMI is anything between 18.5 and 25. Of course, there are other factors that can cause your BMI to be high or low, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor if you’re unsure.
Upgrade Your Lifestyle
Once you know your numbers, you may find it’s time to make some changes. Even if everything looks picture-perfect, there’s no time like the present to build healthier habits. Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas that will get you on the path to heart health.
- Look at your diet - Most of us don’t eat the way we know we should. We start making food choices based on convenience rather than nutrition. Take out food may be much easier, but the price paid to our health is substantial. When we eat too many processed foods, the difference shows in our waistline and other health markers. But what should you be eating? There are as many opinions on healthy foods as there are food options on the market, so seek help from a nutritionist if you’re not sure where to start.
- Move more - Exercise doesn’t need to be hours spent at the gym. Simple, small changes can really add up. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther from the door. Take a walk on your lunch break. Play active games with the kids. Take the dog for a run. Anything that gets you moving can help lower blood pressure and stimulate good circulation.
- De-stress - Stress is no fun, we all know that much. But it can actually be damaging to your heart. Take up yoga, meditation, or a relaxing hobby like painting or music. Step back from an overly busy schedule by cutting out a few activities. Learn to ask for help when you need it.
- Lose the smokes - In this day and age, you already know how bad tobacco is for your health, but it’s not easy to quit. If you’re addicted to nicotine, there’s no weakness in getting help. From counseling to gums and patches, there are plenty of options available. When you quit, not only will you breathe easier, your heart will be less stressed, too.
Understand Your Risk
Lifestyle is important, but there are other factors that may be playing a part in your heart health. Even with a perfectly healthy lifestyle, some people may still be at risk for developing heart disease. And there are plenty of factors that are actually beyond your control.
Genetics can be a big factor in heart health. If you have family members who have suffered heart attacks or strokes, you may be at higher risk for the same. Men are more likely to have heart disease than women, and postmenopausal women are more likely than premenopausal. Your risk rises with age, and race may even be a factor. In fact, African-Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans all have a higher risk than Caucasians.
Why are these factors important if there’s nothing you can do about them? While it’s true that you can’t change your age, family history, or race, knowing your risk can put you ahead of the game. Those with a family history of diabetes, for example, should be screened more often and watch their sugar intake more closely, even if they don’t have high blood sugar. Where your health is concerned, knowledge really is power.
Know Who to Call
What would you do if your blood pressure were to spike? Who would you call if you felt like your blood sugar was too high and you couldn’t get it to come down? While you can certainly call 9-1-1 and go to the hospital for any medical emergency, for many problems there’s actually a better choice.
Seeking medical treatment at home is more convenient, less expensive, and often faster than a trip to your local ER. So the next time you have a health crisis, call in the experts from DispatchHealth instead. They can handle most problems that an emergency department treats, and they’ll come to you so you can avoid the stress of a busy hospital. And since they take most insurance plans including Medicare, treatment will cost you the same as an urgent care visit.
Spread the Word
Dealing with your own heart health is job number one. But don’t let American Heart Month stop there. After all, you likely have friends and family who could use a reminder as well. So make sure you know your numbers. Make some lifestyle changes. Understand your risks. Know who to call in a health crisis, and then be sure to spread the word to all your loved ones. Because knowing that they’re healthy will do your heart some good, too!