Make Your Heart a Priority During ‘Month of Love’

Mirelle Ann Marquez Ignacio, MD, Cucamonga Valley Medical Group

By Mirelle Ann Marquez Ignacio, MD

Many consider February as the “Month of Love.”

After all, Valentine’s Day is in February. This is a time when we express our love and affection by giving gifts such as flowers or share in a good dinner with someone special. Some even plan ahead of time to surprise their loved ones.

The heart month is not only the time for lovers, but also provides us an opportunity to care for ourselves and our own heart.

In other words, an important way to express our love is to care for ourselves. Focus on keeping self-healthy in order to be able to spend more time with family and friends — our loved ones.

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death and also the major cause of disability. Some populations are more at risk in having cardiovascular disease than others.

There are some risks of heart disease that we cannot modify. Other risks may be lessened, and we can maintain greater control of such risks.

We cannot change:

• Age–As we age, our risk of having cardiovascular disease increases. According to the American Heart Association, about 80% of those who have a cardiovascular event are age 65 or older.
• Sex–Men are more at risk compared to females who are in premenopausal state. But as estrogen goes down during menopause, the risk between men and women is the same.
• Race or Ethnicity–African American, Hispanics, Latinos and Southeast Asians are more predisposed to heart disease when compared to other races.
• Family history–There is a higher risk when there is a first degree relative who had cardiovascular disease at a younger age. Father or a brother less than 50 years old, or mother or sister less than 65 years old.

Modifiable Risk Factors:

• Blood pressure control–Maintaining a blood pressure less than 130/80 is the goal. Maintaining good exercise and a low salt diet will be helpful.
• Cholesterol control—The goal is to have a low LDL (bad cholesterol), low triglycerides and high HDL (good cholesterol). If lifestyle changes such as proper diet and good exercise alone cannot control these levels, then medication might be necessary to achieve this control.
• Having healthy weight and waistline–Having BMI (Body Mass Index) between 18-to-24.99 kg/m2. BMI between 25-to-29.99 kg/m2 is considered overweight while more than 30 kg/m2 are considered as obese. BMI may be falsely elevated in patients who have bigger muscle mass such as bodybuilders. Waistline measures central adiposity. In men, the risk is higher with a waistline equal or more than 40 inches and in women more than 35 inches. Controlling calorie intake and maintaining a good physical activity and good nutrition is the key. Reducing weight by 3-to-5 % can be beneficial in lowering glucose, lipid and blood pressure.
• Healthy Diet–Limiting saturated fats (red meat and full dairy products) and trans fats (fried food). Limiting food high in sodium content and added sugar. Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grain as possible. Choosing lean meat and fish, low fat or fat free dairy food and healthy fats such as olive oil. Prefer a diet that is sustainable and practice mindful eating.
• Regular exercise–Strengthening movements and improving circulation help control blood pressure and cholesterol. It is advised to have a moderate intensity level of fitness about 150 minutes per week like doing brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 days in a week Or, vigorous physical activity 75 minutes per week like swimming laps, running, bike riding.
• Avoid smoking or second-hand smoke–There are chemicals in cigarettes that damage and affect the heart and blood vessels, which leads to hypertension. It also reduces oxygen in your blood that makes the heart work harder in delivering oxygen to other parts of the body. For smokers more than 50 years old, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease is 10 times greater than nonsmokers of the same age. Ask your medical provider how to help you regarding smoking cessation.
• Blood sugar control–Diabetic patients are about 2-to-4 times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes. Be in control in managing your sugar.
In addition to the risk factors above, having enough sleep of 7-to-9 hours, drinking alcohol in moderation and managing stress are also beneficial. It is recommended to limit alcohol to two drinks a day in men and 1 drink a day in women. (one drink is equivalent to 1-to-1½ fluid ounces of 80% proof spirits such as bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, or 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 12 fluid ounces of regular beer). Stress management by coping stress with better lifestyle like exercising, meditations rather by binging with food and alcohol.

Choosing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will be a challenge at first, but when it becomes “normal” to us it will be easier. Practicing mindful eating would be a good start. Choosing a diet that is sustainable would be ideal.

Different diets are available such as the Mediterranean diet and Dash diet. Each of these would be a good guide and depends on the needs of each individual.

In starting activities, if you haven’t been active for a while, slowly work your way up to the goals.

Have your regular health screening with your medical provider. Schedule your annual preventative examinations.

If lifestyle modification is not able to control blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, be open-minded to medications to help further control these medical conditions.

Keep your appointments every three to six months in order to monitor chronic medical problems, especially if you are taking medications to control them. Team up with your medical provider in achieving the goal of attaining a healthier you.