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North Central Health District

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Protect Your Health During American Heart Month

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Public Health Encourages Everyone to Fight Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Over 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, which is one in every four deaths. In February, organizations around the U.S. recognize American Heart Month to promote the prevention and treatment heart disease.

Heart disease is a term that refers to several different heart conditions. Heart disease may involve issues with the valves of the heart or how well the heart can pump blood. The most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease, can lead to heart attacks. Heart disease risk factors include certain medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

One major risk factor for heart disease and stroke is high blood cholesterol. While cholesterol is not inherently bad, too much can lead to health issues. Nearly one out of three adults in the U.S. has high blood cholesterol. The condition can be hard to detect as there are usually no obvious signs or symptoms associated with high blood cholesterol. This year, American Heart Month’s theme, Let’s Talk About Cholesterol, highlights the importance of managing blood cholesterol in preventing heart disease.

Lowering your risk of heart disease by managing cholesterol intake can be as simple as making changes to your diet. One important step is limiting foods high in saturated fat such as cheeses, fatty meats and certain dairy products. Foods high in saturated fats may be high in cholesterol. Avoiding foods high in trans fat, sodium and added sugars and choosing foods high in natural fiber can also help manage blood cholesterol levels.

“What we eat significantly affects our cholesterol and our heart, and too much saturated fat can lead to health problems,” said Ryan Smith, Registered Dietitian with North Central Health District. “We can reduce the saturated fat in our diet by choosing lean protein foods and low-fat dairy foods, and by switching to unsaturated cooking fats like vegetable oils. A heart-healthy diet should also include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which can help promote healthy cholesterol levels.”

In addition to making healthy eating choices, there are other ways to prevent high cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease:

  • Get regular physical activity: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like bicycling or a brisk walk, each week. Add muscle strengthening activities, such as resistance or weight, on at least two days each week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity raises the level of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in the body. Excess body fat impacts how the body uses cholesterol and slows the body’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can raise the body’s cholesterol levels along with the levels of triglycerides, which is a type of fat in the blood.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and speeds up the hardening of arteries, greatly increasing the risk of heart disease.

For those living with heart disease, treatment can lower the risk of complications. Lifestyle changes, like those previously listed, can help manage heart conditions. Medication may also be prescribed to treat the disease. Talk with your healthcare provider about your condition and follow the given recommendations to reduce your risk of heart disease.

For more information on heart disease, visit cdc.gov/heartdisease. To learn about how North Central Health District help you prevent heart disease, visit NCHD52.org/Heart or contact your county health department.

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