In the Spotlight

Take a Step for Heart Health

Contributed by Marianne Shaughnessy, CRNP, Gerontological Nurse Practitioner, Baltimore VA GRECC

February is Heart Month. It is a time we celebrate Valentine's Day. Cards are exchanged, flowers sent and candy given. February is also a time to take your health to heart. Each year, about 600,000 people die from heart disease. Do not be counted in this year's numbers. You have the power to reduce your risk of developing heart problems. Today, take a step for Heart Health. Each step you take to improve your health is a powerful action that can help your heart. The following are some simple tips to help start your journey to improve your heart health:

Learn about heart disease

Heart disease is also called cardiovascular disease. It includes high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery disease. Certain risk factors increase your chance of developing heart disease. Some risk factors you cannot control, such as your age, family, and gender. Risk factors you can control include diet, activity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. What you learn can help you be a better partner with your health care team. Talk with your health care team about changes you can make to help you reduce your risk and improve your heart health.

Know your heart health numbers

  • Lipid profile : for high cholesterol, also known as hyperlipidemia
  • Blood glucose: for high blood sugar, also known as diabetes
  • Blood pressure: for high blood pressure also known as hypertension
  • Body Mass Index: for weight, being more than 20 pounds overweight, also known as obesity

Be active

Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories. By exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. A first step you can make to improve your heart health is to start walking.

Eat Better

Heart healthy eating is simple; just eat what is good for your heart. Two ways to eat healthier is to read food labels and to eat the right balance of foods.

  • Make vegetables and fruits about half of what you eat. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber - and they are also low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure
  • Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full
  • Eat fish at least twice a week
  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin
  • Select fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Choose and prepare foods with little if any salt
  • Learn to put together a heart-healthy plate (PDF)

Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you are overweight you can reduce your risk for heart disease by losing weight and keeping it off.

If you have too much fat - especially at your waist - you are at higher risk for heart disease. Men should have a waist no larger than 40 inches, and women no larger than 35 inches.

  • Knowing your Body Mass Index can help you gauge your body fatness. It is an easy way to check for excess weight
  • Talk with your health care team about a fitness and food plan to help you lose weight and keep it off

Do not Smoke

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by

  • lowering your ability to be active
  • increasing your risk for having a stroke.
  • decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol
  • increasing your risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm

The VA offers smoking cessation programs to help you be successful as a "quitter." Talk to your provider today about getting started.

Your health care team will work with you on your journey to healthy living. They will work with you on your eating habits, weight control, and exercise program. Make sure you talk to your provider about your risk for heart disease. Your provider may also include medications to keep you healthy. Talk with your health care team about taking a step for heart health.

Learn More

Track Health(My HealtheVet)

Physical Activity for a Healthier Heart (Veterans Health Library)

MOVE! Weight Management Program