Staying Heart-Healthy All Year Long

Although yesterday officially marked the end of American Heart Month, every single day I’m reminded the importance of maintaining a healthy heart and how quickly life can be taken away.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.  In fact, more Americans die of heart disease than the next four causes of death combined, including all types of cancer.

To some that may be just another statistic, but to me, it’s a reality.

It was eight years ago that my dad suffered a massive heart attack and didn’t survive.  On his death certificate it stated that he had atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular disease that causes hardening of the arteries. My dad was only 53-years-old when he had the sudden heart attack and passed away before anyone even found him.

Three months prior to his death, he had a full check-up in which his blood pressure was normal, his cholesterol was excellent and he was in pretty good health overall. Nothing indicated that he had been suffering from a very serious cardiovascular disease.

It just didn’t make any sense. It still doesn’t make any sense.

This is my dad and I the Easter before he passed away.

This is my dad and I the Easter before he passed away.

The fact that my dad, seemingly healthy and fairly young, passed away from heart disease is not only devastating, it’s alarming. For the rest of our lives, my family and I not only have to live with the ache of our dad not being here, but we also have to live with the harsh reality of a huge health risk in our family medical history. Although my brothers and I are all fairly healthy twenty-somethings (besides the typical lack of sleep), we forever have to keep a close eye on our blood pressure, cholesterol and other cardiovascular levels.

As each Heart Month passes, I’m reminded about my dad’s tragic story and continually distressed by the growing epidemic of heart disease killing millions every year.

I can’t tell you enough how crucial it is to remember your own heart — and not only during the month of February. Although most twenty-somethings are in the clear from a lot of serious diseases, we still have to take care of ourselves, our health, and especially our heart health.

Take action to reduce the chance of developing cardiovascular disease! Here are some important tips from the AHA:

  1. Stop Smoking. About 30% of heart disease-related deaths each year are directly related to smoking.  People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than a non-smoker.
  2. Lower your Cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels can increase your chance of developing heart disease. Strive for a total cholesterol level less than 200. Your HDL, or “good” cholesterol level, should be greater than 40 and your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level, should be under 100.
  3. Control High Blood Pressure. Hypertension is the most common heart disease risk factor. Blood pressure is considered high when the systolic blood pressure (the upper number) is over 140, and/or the diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) is over 90.
  4. Eat Healthy. Eat lean meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables to decrease your risk of heart disease. It’s ok to indulge every once in a while, but overall you should have a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol and high in vitamins.
  5. Get Moving! People who exercise regularly are half as likely to suffer from a heart attack than the “couch potatoes.” Any type of cardio exercise (swimming, running, cycling, etc.) can strengthen your heart, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving cholesterol, lowering blood sugar levels, fighting blood clots, and reducing stress.

Maintaining a healthy heart isn’t that difficult, and there tons of great heart-healthy foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet! Check out this list of 25 Top Heart-Healthy Foods.

I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond pumped that dark chocolate and red wine are actually considered heart-healthy (in moderation, of course!)  Dark chocolate contains high amounts of plant flavonoids and helps increase antioxidants in your blood, enhances blood flow, lowers blood pressure and improves HDL. Red wine also contains high amounts of flavonoids found in the skin and seeds of red grapes. The dryer the red wine, the more flavonoids… and the better it is for your heart!

If you haven’t had your cholesterol and blood pressure check in a while, you should. It’s good to know where you stand now as a fairly healthy twenty-something, and it’ll provide you with a baseline to compare later in life. Take control over the quality and length of your life — make the right choice to protect your heart.

Do you have a favorite heart-healthy recipe or snack idea? We’d love to hear them! Let us know @20sTweet!

~R

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