February is National Heart Month, which makes it the ideal time to learn more about preventing heart disease – one of America’s biggest health problems. Just because you feel healthy doesn’t mean that you’re not at risk for a heart attack or stroke. That’s because the problems that cause heart disease and stroke can remain hidden and hard to detect. This is why regular screening tests administered by your healthcare provider are so important.
“It’s really vital to have these tests done on a regular basis, so we can track all the levels and treat the risk factors with lifestyle changes or medications if needed,” remarked Dr. Asjad Ali of Reliant Medical Group in Holden. “Changes in diet, exercise, and/or medications can help head off the development of cardiovascular disease, which causes heart attacks and strokes in both men and women.”
6 Steps to Better Heart Health
- Drink Green Tea
One reason green tea is so healthy is that it contains powerful antioxidants. Many scientists believe it can help lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure, which is very healthy for your heart.
- Cook More with Olive Oil
Olive oil has long been known as a very heart-healthy food. Use it instead of butter or margarine whenever possible. This heart-healthy fat helps lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Read Your Food Labels
To stay healthy, it pays to know what you’re eating. Always limit fats to 30% or less of the calories you consume. You should also limit saturated fat to 7% of your total caloric intake. Avoid trans-fats whenever possible as they are not heart-healthy. (Note that the word “hydrogenated” on the label means trans-fats). Consuming monounsaturated fats from nuts, dark chocolate, avocado, salmon, and olive oil is much healthier for your heart.
- Eat More Fiber
Fiber can help you reduce your risk of having a heart attack. So eat lots of fresh vegetables, whole grain breads, beans and other high fiber foods. Try to eat at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. (As an example, a cup of black beans or lentils has about 15 grams of fiber.)
- Get More Sleep
Scientists are learning more and more about the importance of sleep. A lack of sleep can cause the stress hormone cortisol to rise in your body, which can lead to weight gain. Gaining weight is bad for your heart. So make sure you get 7 to 8 hours sleep a night – your body will thank you.
- Quit Smoking
People who smoke have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary artery disease and stroke. Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your heart health. Learn more here.
Listed below are some of the cardiovascular screening tests your doctor may recommend. By carefully analyzing the results of these different tests, your healthcare provider can determine your risk for developing heart disease now and in the future.
This simple screening is very important because people with high blood pressure often show no symptoms. Having high blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is higher than 120/80mm Hg, be sure to have it checked often. High blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes as well as medication.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Also known as a fasting lipoprotein profile, this test measures the total cholesterol in your blood. It tracks your LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol as well as your triglyceride level, which measures a type of fat (lipid) in your blood. Both the individual levels and overall levels are important in determining your risk for heart disease.
High blood glucose levels put you at a greater risk of developing insulin resistance as well as prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Left untreated, diabetes can damage your arteries and lead to many serious health problems including heart disease and stroke. Your doctor may recommend more frequent blood glucose tests if you are overweight and have one or more additional risk factors for diabetes.
Body Mass Index
Your healthcare provider will want to track your BMI since this is an important way to know whether your body weight is healthy. Being obese puts people at a higher risk for many health problems including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. The CDC provides a convenient online calculator.
Whether you are under 30 and believe you are in great health or over 60 and having some issues, it’s important to get the cardiovascular screening tests you need. In many ways, cardiovascular disease is a silent killer, and the only way to uncover the risks is with regular screenings. If you’re 20 years of age or older and have not had a heart problem, the American Heart Association recommends that you have your cholesterol checked every four to six years and your blood pressure checked at least every two years. If you have had a heart attack, have a family history of heart problems, or have high cholesterol, talk to your health care provider about how often you should be tested.
About Asjad Ali, MD
Dr. Asjad Ali first became interested in medicine through his father, who was a chemical engineer who worked at a fertilizer company. “He was very knowledgeable about science and plants and how things worked in nature and that helped get me interested in medicine,” he explains. “It’s a great career for those who enjoy science and helping people.”
Dr. Ali enjoys practicing family medicine because he can get to know and treat...View profile View posts by this doctor