Heart disease can happen at any age. Higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure in younger people are putting them at risk for heart disease earlier in life than ever before. With February being Heart Health Month, it’s the perfect time to raise awareness for starting heart-healthy habits that can be practiced within your entire family.

The key to fighting cardiovascular disease is to encourage a healthy diet and active lifestyle. By setting a good example for our youth, we can play an important role in overall heart health from childhood and beyond. Below are some tips to guide families in ways to keep their hearts healthy throughout life.

• Eat healthy. Avoid sugary drinks, choose water or skim milk instead. Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats while avoiding fried, fatty baked goods.

• Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of heart disease, gives you more energy and helps you to feel good about yourself. Work to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of your weight relative to your height.

• Get active. The goal is to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Take family walks together, encourage your kids to be active. Limit screen time for kids and encourage them to use their screen time for heathy activities like yoga, stretching or lifting weights.

• Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking greatly increases your risk of having and dying from heart disease, heart failure and heart attacks. Smoking cessation greatly reduces the risk of recurrent heart attacks and cardiovascular death. Also avoid secondhand smoke by not going to places where smoking is allowed if possible.

• Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. Undiagnosed or untreated high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol can both lead to serious complications such as heart attack or stroke. Know your numbers for cholesterol and blood pressure. You can check your cholesterol with a simple blood test done at your doctor’s office or at a local community screening event.

• Drink alcohol only in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and add unneeded calories to your diet, increasing your BMI. If you drink alcohol, only have a moderate amount — one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men.

• Manage stress. Many studies report a connection between stress and heart health. For example, the most commonly reported “trigger” for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one involving anger. Also, people with higher levels of stress and anxiety often tend to have more trouble recovering after a heart attack. Some common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, heavy drinking and smoking are all very bad for your heart.

• Make good sleep habits. Lack of sleep is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Sleep regulates metabolism and better sleep is associated with healthier weights, which is good for your heart.

To learn more about heart health and get your numbers checked, Henry County Medical Center invites you to attend its annual Free Heart Health Fair from 3-6 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Diagnostic Center atrium, across the street from the hospital. There will be plenty of information about heart health as well as free screenings including blood pressure, cholesterol, carotid artery screening, pulmonary function testing and much more. HCMC’s new cardiologist, Wayne Gibson, will also be in attendance to meet the community and answer questions. Call the HCMC Findline at 644-3463 for more information about this event.

LORI STAMBAUGH is the community nurse educator at Henry County Medical Center. A registered nurse, she has a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

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