Cheat Sheet

Heart Disease For Dummies

Even thinking about heart disease is no fun, but preventing it from happening in the first place (or managing heart disease if you do develop it) is often a matter of controlling your risk factors, eating right, exercising, and generally living a heart-healthy life. Lowering your stress levels comes into play as does knowing the warning signs of heart attack — just in case.

Guidelines for Heart-Healthy Nutrition

If you have heart disease or want to prevent it, paying attention to what you eat is crucial. The tips in the following list point to the basic requirements for a heart-friendly diet:

  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily — at least five servings.

  • Choose a variety of whole grain foods daily.

  • Choose healthy fats in moderation and limit your intake of saturated fat and transfat.

  • Use less salt and choose prepared foods with less salt.

  • Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugar.

  • If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.

  • Do not consume more calories than are required to maintain your best body weight.

How to Manage Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Minimizing your chance of developing heart disease is a matter of common sense and incorporating heart-healthy activities into your life. The following list contains five keys to a heart-healthy lifestyle:

  • Control high blood pressure. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or below.

  • Control your cholesterol levels. Desirable levels for total cholesterol are below 200 milligrams per deciliter. The lower, the better.

  • Accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days.

  • Maintain your body weight at healthy levels — a body mass index between 19 and 25.

  • If you smoke, quit.

Promoting Heart Health with a Physical Activity Program

To keep your heart healthy and disease-free, you have to exercise it — after all, the heart is a muscle. And if you already have a heart problem, maintaining an exercise program recommended by your medical caregiver may be a key treatment method. To help stick with your exercise program through the week-in-week-out grind, use these tips:

  • Set a time and place. Plan at least one activity like a short walk at lunch and other opportunities will fall in place.

  • Be prepared. Adopt a mind-set that emphasizes more physical activity.

  • Include family and friends.

  • Have fun. You'll stick with something you like.

  • Prioritize. Make getting physical activity as important a priority as other objectives in your life.

Tips for Lowering Stress to Prevent Heart Disease

Stress is known to be bad for your health — especially your heart. To minimize stress and maximize a heart-friendly lifestyle, use the following suggestions:

  • Modify factors that can compound stress. Get enough rest. Don't overconsume caffeine. And so on.

  • Live in the present. Quit fearing the future or regretting the past. Make the most of today.

  • Get out of your own way. Don't dwell on the negative or indulge in negative self-talk.

  • Take time out. Step away from it all for ten minutes a day. Take a stroll. Meditate. Nap. Tune into the calm.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Heart Disease

When you're being evaluated for heart disease or any other condition, asking the questions in the following list can help you get the information you need:

  • What is my diagnosis?

  • What tests will I need to undergo?

  • Do these tests have any side effects or dangers?

  • What is the recommended treatment?

  • What are the potential side effects of the treatment?

  • What treatment choices are available?

  • Should I be asking any other questions?

  • Is there any source of information that I can read about my diagnosis?

Warning Signs of Heart Attack

Acknowledging the warning signs of a heart attack can be clouded by fear, denial, or unawareness. If you experience warning signs of a heart attack — even if you've never had any sign of heart trouble — call 911 and go straight to the hospital for prompt evaluation. Remember, the warning signs can be any or all of the ones listed here:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes

  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, or arms

  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath

Major Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

Several factors help determine whether you face a high risk of developing heart disease. You can manage many of these risk factors to help prevent coronary artery disease and the attendant problems. Do your best to mitigate these heart no-nos:

  • High blood pressure

  • Elevated cholesterol

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Inactive lifestyle

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

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