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Honor Your Heart With Healthy Choices

  • Published
  • 14 February 2023
  • Category
  • General

In recognition of Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, we want to remind you about ways to protect your cardiovascular health, which directly impacts quality of life and the ability to work safely.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people at risk of a heart attack (myocardial infarction) do not manage their risk factors, and more than half of Americans who suffer a heart attack have no early-warning signs or symptoms.

Some risk factors for heart disease, such as your race/ethnicity, age or genetic profile, cannot be controlled. However, people can make lifestyle changes to help prevent and manage medical conditions that increase their risk. Nearly half of U.S. adults have at least one of these three controllable risk factors: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and/or smoking. Other risk factors that can be managed for better health outcomes include diabetes, being overweight or obese, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.


Controllable Risk Factors

When the pressure of blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high, it can damage your heart, brain and other vital organs. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is referred to as a “silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms. You can monitor your blood pressure using a manual or automated device at home. (Refer to instructions from the American Heart Association.)

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver; it is also contained in certain foods. When you consume products containing cholesterol, it can build up in arterial walls, narrow arteries and decrease blood flow throughout your body. High levels of triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood, also contributes to increased risk for heart disease.

Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for both cardiovascular disease and cancer. Among thousands of chemicals contained in cigarette smoke, more than 70 are known carcinogens, the American Cancer Society reports. The lungs, mouth, throat and bladder are among parts of the body that are particularly susceptible.

If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells for energy. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and heart.

Obesity is excess body fat linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. Obesity is a common risk factor for hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Obesity may be managed with diet, exercise, medication, and in some cases, surgical solutions. Medical guidance is recommended.


Heart Disease Prevention

Here are some things you can do to help reduce your chances of getting heart disease:

  1. Check your blood pressure at least once a year, and more often if you have hypertension. Get a medical checkup if your numbers are above the healthy range for your age, and make recommended lifestyle adjustments.
  2. Limit foods high in saturated fats, sodium and added sugars. Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  3. Get regular exercise to strengthen your heart, improve circulation, stay flexible and feel more energetic.
  4. Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, and it adds extra calories to your diet. Men are advised to have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day; women no more than one per day.
  5. If you smoke, consider enrolling in a cessation program or seek advice from your personal provider on aids to help you quit.
  6. Manage stress in healthy ways such as exercising for fun, spending quality time with others, pursuing a hobby, exploring outdoors, doing deep breathing or meditation, or talking with a therapist.
  7. Many people don’t realize they have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Get tested for diabetes if you have risk factors. If you have diabetes, carefully monitor blood sugar, use insulin as prescribed, follow an exercise routine and adopt a diet focused on fresh, not processed, foods.
  8. Get enough sleep to reduce your risk for high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Most adults need seven-to-nine hours of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping or feel excessively sleepy during the day, see a medical professional.

Refer to this edition of WorkCare’s Wellness Monthly and our heart health fact sheet to learn more.