In honor of American Heart Month, I want to focus this blog post on the many things you can do to maintain a healthy heart or recover from a heart attack. From food choices and activities to being aware of the signs of a heart attack, you can be proactive when it comes to the most important organ of the body!
1. Make Healthy Eating Choices
It is no secret that a diet full of fatty, sugary and highly processed foods can cause many different health problems. Doctors for years have been advising patients to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, as well as cut out unhealthy fats and processed sugar. Making healthy choices in your diet can prevent heart disease as well as heart problems like blocked arteries.
I am very health-conscious and follow a Paleo diet. The basic concept is to eat foods similar to what a hunter-gatherer would have eaten—vegetables, fruits, meat, fish—and avoid foods that are newer to humanity, such as grains, sugar and vegetable oils. I am healthier than I have ever been, and have the body composition of a much younger person—and I attribute it directly to my diet!
Whether you choose the Paleo diet or not, heart disease and heart attacks can be prevented by choosing a diet that is high in fiber and full of protein. There are healthy fats like those from nuts and avocados that can actually prevent heart problems, and of course all of the vegetables you can stand! The benefits to your heart (and the rest of your body) are too numerous to count.
The American Heart Association makes other suggestions like lowering your salt intake (you can experiment with a variety of salt-free spices to give your food extra flavor!) and cutting down sugary drinks. Even fruit juice is packed with sugars your heart doesn’t need!
2. Stay Active
Exercise is also an important aspect of preventing heart attacks and heart disease. Many people think of exercise as a thing to hate and have an image of people working themselves so hard they can’t even breathe. This does not have to be the case!
One of the best exercises for people of all ages is something you do every day—walking! This is the ideal exercise for people who are just starting with an exercise routine, and can be done wherever you go and with no equipment. Best of all, studies have shown that a brisk walking pace can increase the health of your heart as much as running does!
However, any exercise you choose can improve the health of not just your heart but your entire body. Choose activities like bicycling and swimming as well as walking, and change your routine frequently to prevent boredom. Whatever you do, keep moving—your heart will thank you!
3. Curtail Unhealthy Habits
Decrease your chances for heart problems by replacing your unhealthy habits with healthy ones. If you are a smoker, quit now! There are many types of smoking cessation programs available, and the health benefits to being a non-smoker extend much further than just your heart!
4. Know What to Look For
In addition to making wise food choices and keeping active, it is also important to know what the signs of a heart attack are. If you suspect that you (or someone you are with) is having a heart attack, prompt medical treatment is necessary. Here are some of the tell-tale signs of a heart attack:
- Chest pain – This is not necessarily a stabbing pain that seems obvious, but can also include feeling pressure or a sensation of fullness in the chest. The pain can be constant but can also subside and return.
- Difficulty breathing – This symptom can occur with or without chest pain, so it is one that many people overlook. However, if shortness of breath comes on suddenly and has no other explanation, you could be having a heart attack.
- Pain in your upper body – Everyone knows the classic heart attack symptom of pain starting in your left arm and moving toward your chest. However, pain can occur in either arm, your stomach or your neck.
- Nausea – Often patients experiencing a heart attack feel nauseous and break out in what is called a cold sweat.
5. Have Regular Checkups
Whether you have existing heart problems or not, an important way to prevent heart problems (or catch problems early!) is to have regular checkups with your primary physician. He can listen to your heart and evaluate your lifestyle, as well as take a complete medical history and advise you of changes you need to make.
As a reminder, all 2014 ACA-compliant plans cover preventive care with no out-of-pocket expenses for you. Take advantage of this coverage and schedule an appointment with your doctor today!
If your doctor orders lab tests or medical imaging tests, follow his advice and have them done! Take advantage of our discounted imaging service to save money on a heart ultrasound or CT scan he orders. You can also save a considerable amount of money on any lab tests you might need by using our lab fee discount card.
I want to share with you a very valuable tool in our discount arsenal! DirectLabs is one such company I highly recommend. I just completed a comprehensive wellness profile using testing that could have cost me close to $600 in lab fees. Since I used DirectLabs, I only paid $97 for an incredibly thorough picture of my overall health, from kidneys to cholesterol. These savings and peace of mind is just too good not to share!
I encourage you to take control of your health starting today. Life is too short to spend it plagued with heart problems that could be prevented with proper self-care. Remember, your heart is the most important part of your body—honor American Heart Month by not neglecting it a second longer!
Wiley Long is President of HSA for America, and a passionate advocate for consumer-based solutions that will improve price transparency and lower health insurance and medical costs for people purchasing individual and family health insurance plans.