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Grand River Chronicle

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Heart Health

Heath Health

Heart health is a popular topic these days, but it’s complex and can be difficult to understand. Ask anyone if they’re interested in keeping their heart healthy and the answer would be “yes.” What exactly does that mean? Simply put, it means preventing heart disease – taking steps to first make the heart healthy and then to keep it from becoming, in a sense, ill. In the medical world we call this primary prevention of heart disease.  Primary prevention aims to keep a disease or disorder from developing. This is opposed to secondary prevention, which aims to detect and treat disease early, and tertiary prevention, which aims to manage chronic disease to prevent complications from occurring.


Heart health is important because it’s opposite, heart disease, affects a lot of us. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Chances are many of us have a family member or loved one who has been affected by heart disease. Heart disease is a catch-all term for a variety of conditions that affect the heart in both its structure and function. The most common kind of heart disease is coronary artery disease. Another term for this is coronary heart disease. This occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, resulting in clogged arteries. The medical term for this is atherosclerosis. Other types of heart disease include:

  • Heart failure (impairment in the heart’s ability to fill with and pump blood)
  • Heart attack (decreased blood flow to the heart causing local death of heart tissue)
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat or heart rhythm)
  • Angina (chest pain or pressure due to insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle)
  • Congenital heart disease (a defect of the heart present at birth)
  • Heart valve disease (malfunction of one of the heart valves)
  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)

So, as you can see, the term “heart disease” encompasses a variety of diseases and the overall goal of “heart health” is to try to prevent a number of these things from occurring.


An important first step toward understanding heart health is understanding your risk of developing heart disease. There are several risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors increase the chance of developing a disease. The more risk factors you have, the higher your overall risk. The following are known risk factors for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Prediabetes or diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle or lack of regular physical activity
  • Age (45 or older for men and 55 or older for women)
  • Family history of early heart disease (male family member with heart disease before age 55 or a female family member with heart disease before 65)

Some of these are “nonmodifiable” risk factors, or risk factors that cannot be changed. These include your sex, age and family history of early heart disease. Many of them, however, are “modifiable” risk factors, or ones that can be controlled or changed. These include diet, activity level and weight among others. It is making changes to these risk factors that are important for heart health.


Here are specific steps you can take to improve your heart health:

  • Diet – eat better!
    • Choose lean meats or try plant-based proteins; eat fish 1-2 times a week
    • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
    • Choose healthy snacks
    • Read nutrition labels – choose foods lowest in added sugar, sodium and saturated fat
    • Limit alcohol
    • Develop an individualized food plan by going to https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan
  • Weight – maintain a healthy weight!
    • Keep a food log and track calorie intake
    • Maintain adequate hydration with water
    • Choose healthy snacks
    • Get regular exercise
  • Physical activity – be more active!
    • Most adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly
    • If time is a constraint, try being active for 10 minutes at a time – anything that increases your heartrate counts!
    • Add in muscle strengthening activities as well – sit-ups, push-ups, resistance bands, lifting weights, yoga
  • Smoking – stop smoking!
    • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov
    • Join a support group
    • Talk with your healthcare provider
  • Sleep – get enough quality sleep!
    • Aim for 7-9 hours nightly
    • Have a regular bedtime and wake time
  • Stress – manage stress with healthy coping strategies!
    • Relaxation techniques to calm mind and body
    • Breathing exercises
    • Meditation
    • Yoga
  • See your healthcare provider regularly – this is important so that they can help you:
    • Monitor blood pressure
    • Monitor cholesterol
    • Monitor blood sugar

In our society, where heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women and causes a significant amount of debility and disability, an emphasis on heart health is important. Understanding heart disease, knowing your risk factors for heart disease and learning about what you can do to modify your risk factors are key steps to heart health. Heart-healthy living also contributes to overall health and well-being.


Questions after reading this? Make an appointment with your primary care provider today to discuss what you can do for your heart health!