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Heart tips: Are you keeping your heart healthy?
Around half of adults in the U.S. are living with one of the three top risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. But there’s a lot you can do to protect the health of your heart, even if you have a family or personal history of cardiovascular disease or currently have one of these risk factors.
Use these steps as the building blocks of a personalized heart health strategy:
- Know your family history. If a family member was diagnosed with any type of heart disease, your risk for developing cardiovascular disease is higher than average. And if your biological mother, father, sister, or brother had a heart attack before the age of 50, your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke increases.
- Learn about heart disease risk factors. There are some risk factors that you cannot control (being older than 65; being male; having a family history of heart disease; experiencing health disparities due to being Black, Mexican American, Indigenous, native Hawaiian, and some groups of Asian Americans; for women, having pre-eclampsia while pregnant). You can lessen or eliminate the impact of other risk factors by changing your behavior, for example not smoking, or receiving medical treatment for conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
- Make healthier choices. Being active on a regular basis, choosing a healthy diet, not smoking or vaping, limiting your consumption of alcohol, getting enough good quality sleep, managing stress, and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can all help lower your risk of heart disease. If trying to tackle all these behaviors at once feels overwhelming, choose one or two to start with, then add new healthy behaviors once you’ve built a few solid healthy habits.
- Partner with your healthcare provider. Your primary care provider can check your cardiovascular health, help you manage chronic conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, suggest lifestyle changes to reduce your risk, and refer you to a cardiologist or other specialists if needed. It’s important to be an active partner in your care and discuss your heart health with your provider. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- Am I at an increased risk of developing heart disease? If so, why?
- Are my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol within the normal range? If not, what should I do?
- Do I need any screening tests for cardiovascular disease, like an EKG or stress test?
- How often should I see you or my cardiologist?
- What are the symptoms of heart disease that I should be on the lookout for, for example fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling in the feet or ankles, or a chronic cough?
- If your provider recommends medication or other treatments, ask what the benefits and risks are and what other options are available.
- Get help building and sticking with your healthy heart strategy. Making lifestyle changes, connecting with specialists, and understanding your risk factors and treatment options can feel like a lot of work. A health advisor, health navigator, or nurse case manager available through your health plan can help you build a heart health plan, access evidence-based information on conditions and treatments, and connect with specialists.