The WellSpan Spotlight

Diet and nutrition

5 habits for better heart health 

5 habits for better heart health

Someone dies every 34 seconds from heart disease in this country, making it the leading cause of death in the United States.

"Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history," explains Dr. Rajesh Chintala, WellSpan Cardiology. "However, there are many small things you can work into your daily routine that can set you on a path for better heart health." 

Here are some suggestions by Dr. Chintala: 

Get a good night's rest 

The American Heart Association added sleep to its heart health checklist in 2021. It's recommended adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Over time, a lack of sleep can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are contributing factors to heart disease.  

Get more zzz's by:  

  • Setting a schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. 
  • Avoid artificial light, especially before bed. 
  • Get enough natural light during the day. Find time to sneak outside for a walk (that's good for your heart too). 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.  

Exercise 

Strive for at least 150 minutes (about two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Heart-pumping activities like brisk walking, swimming, or bicycling can help maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.  

Eat healthy 

Choose heart-healthy foods like:  

  • Leafy greens.
  • Fruits.
  • Whole grains.
  • Foods rich with protein, including fish, eggs, and lean meat. 

Try to avoid:  

  • Food high in sodium.
  • Food high in saturated fat.
  • Added sugars.
  • Too much alcohol. 

This Heart Month, WellSpan is sponsoring several heart healthy cooking demonstrations. 

Quit smoking  

Smoking nicotine, including the use of electronic cigarettes, is a contributing factor to heart disease. The chemicals in smoke can cause the cells in the lining of the blood vessels to swell, causing the vessels to get smaller. Even exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease in those who do not smoke. Quitting smoking now can reverse the damage to the heart and blood vessels.  

WellSpan offers several resources to help you quit, click here to find a program that is right for you.  

Know your numbers 

Four elevated measurements are associated with higher risk factors to heart disease. They are cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI). It is recommended that most people get these checked at least once every two years. If you are at an increased risk for heart disease, your doctor may want to check more often.  

What should my numbers be?  

  • Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your body's cells. Too much of it can lead to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This sticky stuff causes your arteries to harden and narrow, which limits blood flow. Those blockages can create a heart attack or, if located in the brain, a stroke. 

The healthy goal: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) lower than 100 for low-risk patients, and less than 70 for high-risk patients. 

  • Your blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The top one (systolic) indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats. The bottom one (diastolic) indicates how much pressure your heart is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting, between beats.  

The healthy goal: 120/80 or less.  

  • Blood sugar is what it sounds like: a measurement of the amount of sugar in the blood. Sugar in the blood comes from the foods we eat every day. 

The healthy goal: less than 100 (fasting) 

  • Excess weight or obesity is linked to higher cholesterol. It can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. The body mass index is a measurement of your weight as compared to your height. A higher BMI is associated with increased body fat. Calculate your BMI here 

The healthy goal: 18.5-24.9

To learn more about WellSpan's game-changing heart care, go here.