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Feb. 1, 2019

By Dr. Christopher M. Thompson

Cardiologist – WellMed / Specialist For Health

February is when we traditionally present our loved ones and friends with Valentine cards, candies and gifts.

But it’s also American Heart Month when we are reminded of the importance — especially for older adults — about taking care of our hard-working hearts.

Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Women are at a higher risk after age 55, while men are at a greater risk after age 45. About two-thirds of cardiovascular deaths nationwide occur in people age 75 and older, according to the American Heart Association.

There are heart disease risk factors — such as aging and family history — which may be beyond your control but there are things you can do, even small lifestyle adjustments, that can improve your health even in our 50s, 60s and beyond. Some important factors to keep in mind are diet, activity, stress, existing health conditions and sleep.

WellMed and Specialists for Health join the American Heart Association in the hope that during February, there can be timely opportunities for families and loved ones to share important information about heart disease.

Key tips include:

Maintain a healthy diet. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains. Learn to cut down on foods high in cholesterol and sodium, and limit sugar-sweetened beverages.

Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. High levels of LDL — the “bad” cholesterol — are a major risk for heart disease. Get regular screenings to keep it under control. Learn to manage your blood pressure with exercise, stress management and a low sodium diet, and quit smoking.

 Get Active. A few small adjustments to your level of physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease. Endurance or cardio exercises are the best for a healthy heart. Walking, running, hiking, swimming and biking, and aerobic-type classes are all great cardio options. It is important to exercise three to five times a week. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Control stress. Make time for hobbies or things you enjoy doing. Verbalizing frustration, expressing gratitude, laughing and engaging in social situations can all be ways to help manage stress.

Improve your sleep. Keep a regular sleep schedule, limit caffeine and don’t drink it past 2 p.m. Watching TV or using electronic devices before bed may affect your sleep. Try to get 7-to-8 hours of sleep per night.

In addition to these tips, it is important to check with your doctor or health provider to find out your personal risk for heart disease and what actions are best for you and your lifestyle.

Christopher M. Thompson, M.D., is a cardiologist with Specialists for Health, a multi-specialty group supporting patients in the WellMed Network.

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