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Illustration of heart monitorSeven simple steps to heart health


February is National Heart Month. Take some time to assess your heart health and then make the needed changes to decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease.


The American Heart Association has an online tool called My Life Check to help you assess your health. The survey asks questions about seven areas of your health. The results tell you where you are excelling and how you can make improvements.


“We can all make some changes in our health habits that will not only make us feel better, they will decrease our risk for heart attack,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.


The American Heart Association also developed Life’s Simple 7 which are steps you can take to improve heart health and live better. They include:


  1. Get active: Thirty minutes of daily moderate exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. Aerobic activity benefits your heart and lowers blood pressure, raises good HDL cholesterol, helps manage stress, controls blood sugar, helps control weight and enhances self-esteem. Walking is a great way to improve your heart health and it’s free, easy and almost anyone can do it. Remember to also include weekly strength training, flexibility and balance exercises.
  2. Control cholesterol: Total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol can build up in the arteries increasing the risk factors for heart attack and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.
  3. Eat better: A diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a great start to a healthier body. The American Heart Association also recommends that you eat fish twice a week — oily fish like salmon and mackerel contain omega 3 fatty acids, which may help reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protect from hardening of the arteries. For heart health, limit saturated and trans fats, and choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  4. Manage blood pressure: One of every three adults has high blood pressure and many don’t even know they have it. High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. The goal is to have your blood pressure be less than 120 over 80. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. When your blood pressure is in the healthy range, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood through the arteries, the arteries are elastic and free of injury or being overstretched, and all your body tissues receive the nutrients they need from a proper flow of blood.
  5. Lose weight: Too much fat, especially around your waist, puts you at a higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Losing that weight helps decrease your risk.
  6. Reduce blood sugar: Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. By keeping blood sugar levels in the healthy range and preventing diabetes, you can control your risk for heart disease. Those who have diabetes can control their blood sugar in order to slow or reduce the risk of long-term complications, like heart disease.
  7. Stop smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and heart attacks.


“Remember that small changes can make a big difference,” said Roberts. Choose just one thing at a time and practice it until it becomes a habit.


When a person does suffer from a heart attack, getting the patient to the hospital quickly is crucial for life-saving measures to be taken. For this, the American Heart Association says it is important to know the warning signs of a heart attack. Signs include:


  • Chest discomfort that may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body which may include one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs which may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.


To learn more, see Warning Signs of Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest on the American Heart Association website.


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Last Updated 02/08/2016