February is American Heart Month, dedicated to motivating people to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease. It’s especially important now, as poor cardiovascular health means an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“You’re never too young or too old to focus on your health and your heart and getting it as healthy as you possibly can,” says Dr. Sandra Mele, a physician at 4C Medical Group, part of OptumCare.
Join in American Heart Month with these five tips to keep your heart healthy and young.
Quitting may be easier said than done, but it takes only a year after quitting for the effects of heart disease to reverse, Mele says.
“If people are smoking, it’s hard, but that would be one of the biggest impacts on heart health,” she says.
To quit and stay committed, join a support group through your workplace or community. You can also get free help from the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848).
Adjust your diet
Even small changes help, so increase fruits and veggies until they’re half your meal content, and add whole grains, Mele says. As for what to cut: trans fats — like partially hydrogenated oil — and saturated fats are at the top of the list.
“Those are your fatty meats, whole milk, and cheese,” Mele says. “And some oils that are best to stay away from include palm oils and coconut oils.”
Additionally, keep daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams — about one teaspoon of salt, per Food & Drug Administration guidelines.
Start a routine by doing “anything that gets your heart rate moving a little faster than normal,” Mele says. This can be as simple as adding a walk when you take out the trash or moving more while gardening — just “push it a little bit,” she says.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, per Department of Health and Human Services recommendations.
“Moderate exercise means you’re breathing heavier,” Mele says. “Work up to that, where you’re able to do (150 minutes) on a weekly basis.”
Know your family history
You may not be able to change genetics, but learning what runs in your family is helpful.
“Knowing family history is really important. Genetics do play quite a big role in heart disease,” Mele says. “Talk to your parents or your siblings and understand what conditions they have, and that will help guide our treatment as physicians.”
See your doctor
No matter your genes or habits, a doctor can help you improve your heart health. Find one through 4C Medical Group, a primary care delivery network with 13 clinics around the Valley.
“We’re not just imagining a world where health care works better for everyone — we’re creating it,” 4C Medical Group says. “Our clinics offer a wide range of services including primary care, urgent care, and family practice. We also offer same day and walk-in appointments, lab services, and physical therapy."
Visit 4cmedicalgroup.com for information and to find a doctor who can help you keep your heart healthy and young.