Heart Health: Taking Small Steps Today to Ensure More Tomorrows

February is a month for hearts and not just the chocolate kind! Take inventory and start your healthy heart habits today.

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In 1736, Benjamin Franklin famously told his fellow Philadelphians who were under the threat of fire that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This sound advice can be applied to nearly any situation.

Wearing a helmet is easier than dealing with the repercussions of a concussion. Driving the speed limit is less expensive than paying for a speeding ticket. Wearing sunscreen is easier than suffering through the effects of a bad sunburn.

While nobody wants bad things to happen, people are often willing to roll the dice, taking the risk that while something bad might happen, it probably won’t, which is all good and fine until the potential risk becomes a reality.

Millions of people, across all age sectors, gamble with their heart health every day. As a 20-something, heart health can seem to be an “old” person problem. However, like many things in life, small deposits now can make a big difference later. Think of it like compounding interest; the earlier in life a person starts saving money, the more earning potential that money has. Heart health is the same way. The things a person does now can help in both the short- and long-term. While it is best to start early, it is never too late to start.  

Being Physically Active

Regular exercise can provide multiple positive effects, such as lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, and a healthier body weight. Additionally, exercise takes some of the burden off the heart by  improving the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump more blood to the muscles.

In conjunction w­­ith the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association recommends combining aerobic exercises, such as swimming, biking, and jogging, with resistance training for optimal benefit. The next question becomes, how often should a person do these exercises? Ideally, aerobic exercise should last for 30 minutes a day and be done at least five days a week. Resistance training at least two nonconsecutive days per week will give your body the best chance at reducing fat and creating leaner muscle mass.

Minimizing Stress 

Stress is normal. It is a byproduct of everyday living. However, stress can  trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart, leading to the heart being deprived of enough blood or oxygen. Furthermore, if stress is not managed, it can also affect how the blood clots, making the blood stickier and increasing the likelihood of a stroke. Knowing this, it is important to find ways to reduce daily stress. The following list should help kickstart a few ideas:

  • Relax – This can look differently for everyone. Yoga can help relax the body while calming the mind. It also helps reduce blood pressure. Meditation is also extremely valuable as it not only reduces blood pressure, but can also assist in the management of stress, through improved focus.
  • Laugh – Not only can laughter help the day go by a little faster, it can also cause positive physical changes as well. The intake of oxygen-rich air stimulates the heart while increasing endorphins to the brain. A  good laugh can also increase and then decrease heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a positive, relaxed feeling.
  • Get a pet – Pets are a great way to lower stress.  Studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. Spending time with animals has also been shown to reduce cortisol and lower blood pressure.
  • Be social – People with strong social networks tend to live longer. Spending time with friends and family can be good both now and in the future.


Healthy Weight Management

Weight management is about more than just avoiding fast food and exercising more. Calorie deficits help with weight loss, but a heart healthy diet incorporates more high-quality foods and utilizes appropriate serving sizes. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following for a heart-healthy diet:

  •  Control portion sizes – There are a lot of hidden variables that play into portion sizes.  Research points to the propensity for people to eat more when there is more food sitting on a plate. There are other studies that focus on individual habits; people tend to put the same amount of food on their plate regardless of size. At the end of the day, serving size control is up to each individual. Learning to judge a serving size is a skill to be mastered one day at a time.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – Eating low-calorie, nutrient rich foods provides necessary vitamins and minerals while also helping curb hunger.
  • Choose whole grains – Whole grain provides fiber and other valuable nutrients that assist in regulating blood pressure and improving heart-health. With options like brown rice, barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole-wheat flour, there are no shortage of ways to incorporate whole grain dietary choices each day.
  • Limit unhealthy fats – Lowering the amount of saturated and trans-fats can help reduce blood cholesterol and the associated risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Reduce sodium intake – Processed foods typically have high amounts of sodium. Eating fresh foods provides better nutrition while also reducing sodium intake. Another simple way to minimize sodium is looking for salt substitutes or reduced sodium versions of condiments.


Medication Adherence

According to the  American College of Cardiology, heart disease accounts for roughly 125,000 preventable deaths each year, with many of those deaths tied to patients neglecting to take life-saving medication.

PharmAvail works diligently to ensure its formularies provide life-saving medicines. For example, it is important that newly diagnosed diabetic patients take metformin consistently to help slow down the advance of the disease; taking insulin may be an important therapy to maintain hemoglobin A1c levels within a safe range. A class of drugs called “statins” are instrumental in lowering cholesterol levels which reduces the development of cardiovascular disease. There are many medicines available for the treatment of hypertension and most of them are available as low-cost generic medications.

With a network of more than 67,000 pharmacies nationwide and the availability of mail order refills, members are able to access life-saving medications wherever they live. With  47% of Americans having at least 1 of 3 key risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking), heart health should be top of mind.

It is never too early to start making small changes which will have lasting impacts.