Heart Health Tips

You might not give it much thought throughout the day, but your heart is working around the clock for you. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body because it pumps blood and oxygen to all of your organs.

When your heart doesn’t get the care it needs, serious problems can develop in the lining of the arteries, which then lead to plaque formation. Plaque is what leads to heart attacks and blockage of blood flow in the arteries. Understand the conditions that affect your heart and the habits that can help prevent or manage them. Taking action will help you keep your ticker in top shape.


What is cholesterol?

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You may think all cholesterol is bad, but your body needs some to work right.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body makes and you also get from food. It allows your body to make vitamin D and certain hormones, including estrogen in women and testosterone in men, and helps with digestion.

Why should I care about cholesterol?

There are two types of cholesterol you may have heard about: High-density lipoprotein or HDL, often called good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein or LDL, often called bad cholesterol.

Bad cholesterol can contribute to artery-clogging plaque. Good cholesterol, on the other hand, helps remove plaque. In the end, it helps protect you from getting heart disease. Having too much of the bad, or not enough of the good, can lead to heart disease.

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How do I know if I have high cholesterol?

There are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol. That’s why it’s best to get your cholesterol levels checked through a blood test or home kits. You may need to go without eating, drinking, or taking medication, anywhere from nine to 12 hours before your test. Talk to your doctor about how to best prep for a home test.

That blood test will give you several numbers, including your total cholesterol, your levels of good and bad cholesterol, and triglycerides, which is a type of fat.

Here are the cholesterol and triglyceride numbers you may want to aim for:

Cholesterol Goals

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Less than 200 mg/dL

Less than 70 mg/dL if you already have heart disease

Less than 100 mg/dL if you are at high risk for heart disease

Less than 130 mg/dL if you are at low risk for heart disease

How often should I have my cholesterol levels checked?

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If you are over the age of 20 and don’t have heart disease, you should have your levels checked every 4 to 6 years. You may need to get your cholesterol checked more often if you’re at risk for heart disease, have high cholesterol, or have been on medications that treat high cholesterol.

How can I lower my cholesterol levels?

Medications and lifestyle changes can help you get high cholesterol under control. Even if you don’t have high cholesterol, you can still make changes to your daily habits to lower your risk of heart disease.

Here are steps you can take:

  1. Eat healthy: Your meals should be mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, and nuts while limiting red meat and sugary foods and drinks. Bonus: Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you lose weight, which may help lower your cholesterol.Move more: Aim for 30 minutes of heart- pumping activity most days of the week. Think brisk walking, bicycling, and swimming.
  2. Quit smoking: No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, you will still benefit from quitting.
  3. Avoid secondhand smoke: Even if you don’t smoke, being around it can raise your risk of heart disease.

High Blood Pressure

What is high blood pressure?

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When you have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is high.

Without treatment, high blood pressure can damage your arteries, heart, kidneys, and other organs. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. It can also cause vision and memory loss, erectile dysfunction, fluid in the lungs, chest pain, circulatory problems, and several other conditions.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

You might have heard that high blood pressure is called a “silent killer.” That’s because there may be no symptoms.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

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A blood pressure test is the only way to know if your blood pressure is too high. During the test, a cuff is placed around your upper arm to measure the pressure of blood flowing through the arteries.

While it’s almost impossible to tell if you have high blood pressure without a test, there is something called hypertensive crisis where your blood pressure is so high that you need emergency care. In this case, you would have symptoms. If you have high blood pressure along with severe headaches or back pain, chest discomfort, nausea or vomiting, feeling nervous or anxious, visual problems, or seizure, call 911.

What do the numbers from a blood pressure test mean?

There are two numbers in blood pressure readings. If one or both are too high, you could have high blood pressure.

Systolic pressure is the top number. It tells you the pressure of blood flow on your artery’s walls when your heart is beating and pushing blood to your body. It’s the higher of the two numbers.

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Diastolic pressure is the bottom number. It tells you the pressure on your artery’s walls between heartbeats, when your heart is relaxing and refilling with blood.

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings Based on at least two readings:

How often should I have my blood pressure checked?

If you don't have high blood pressure, you should have your pressure tested every two years after age 20. Your doctor will test it more often if you have or are at risk for high blood pressure.

How can I lower my blood pressure?

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In some cases, making lifestyle changes can lower your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor to find out if you need prescription medication as well.

Whether you’re trying to prevent or treat high blood pressure, here are nine habits you should follow:

Heart-Healthy Living

What can I do in my daily life to lower my risk of heart disease?

Even when you have several risk factors for heart disease, there are things you can do to improve your chances of avoiding it. You know you should eat healthy, exercise, and quit smoking. Here are some other steps you can take:

  1. Go for regular checkups: At least once a year, get a physical to make sure you haven’t developed any conditions that would put you at risk for heart disease, and to make sure you are controlling any conditions you already have.
  2. Keep tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol: If you’re getting regular checkups, your doctor can help you track this, but you can also use a home blood pressure device or a blood pressure machine in a pharmacy. Your pharmacist can also check your blood pressure.
  3. Manage your diabetes: If you have diabetes, make sure you’re closely watching your blood sugar levels, eating well, and exercising.
  4. Don’t skip your medications: If you’re taking medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes, take them as directed. If you’re having unpleasant side effects, don’t stop taking them. Instead, ask about other options.

What tools can help me keep an eye on my heart health at home?

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If you’re looking to keep close tabs on your blood pressure, weight, or amount of exercise, there are some tools that can help motivate you and track your progress. Here are a few you might consider:

While many people think these are just for athletes, they can help anyone track and improve their fitness level. It can also help you avoid overdoing it.

Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. Your doctor can also tell you what your target heart rate should be. To get the most benefit on the heart from the exercise you are doing.

Eating for Your Heart

How can I eat for better heart health?

You don’t have to do a dramatic overhaul to your diet to see improvements to your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Making small changes can be just as effective in lowering your risk of heart disease and may be easier to stick with for the long term.

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You may want to follow a formal diet so you know exactly what to eat, or you might prefer having some general guidelines to keep in mind. Either way, a heart-healthy diet should include these principles:

  • Red meat.
  • Sugary foods and drinks. Try foods made with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, like sucralose, stevia, and aspartame instead of sugar.
  • Saturated and trans fats. Use healthier oils and sprays like olive or canola.
  • Sodium. Limit yourself to 2,300 milligrams (approximately one teaspoon a day) or less daily; 1,500 milligrams a day should be the max if you want to lower blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about whether you should use a salt substitute.
  • Processed foods or canned foods.
    Fruits and vegetables, especially those that are high in potassium, like bananas, raisins, and oranges (7-9 servings every day)
  • Whole grains (6-8 servings a day)
  • Low-fat dairy (2-3 servings a day)
  • Fish and lean meats prepared without skin or added fats (up to 6 ounces a day)

Are there supplements that I can take to improve my heart health?

Omega-3 fatty acid, which is found mainly in fish, may help lower blood pressure and triglycerides, lowering your risk of heart disease. It’s best to get omega-3s from food, so you should aim to eat fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and trout, at least twice a week.

When you aren’t getting enough omega-3s from food, a supplement may help. If you have heart disease or high triglycerides, talk to your doctor first. You may need larger doses or prescription-strength omega-3s.

Don’t take more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day unless your doctor tells you to. Taking too much can cause bleeding in some people. If you have a bleeding condition or take medicines that increase bleeding, such as blood thinners or pain relievers, talk to your doctor before taking omega-3s.

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Should I take aspirin to help protect my heart?

Aspirin helps thin the blood and prevents clots from forming. Taking a low-dose aspirin daily may help prevent a heart attack if you’re at high risk for having one or you’ve had one in the past. Talk to your doctor about whether aspirin therapy is right for you.

You should not take aspirin if you:

  • Have an allergy to aspirin
  • Are having any medical or dental surgeries or procedures
  • Are at risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding or a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by ruptured blood vessels)
  • Drink alcohol regularly

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