Keeping Your Heart Healthy

Heart Health

Do you have high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease? Maybe you’re a former smoker or you’ve already had a heart attack. Or maybe you just want to prevent heart problems as best you can. Whatever your motive, you’re interested in being heart healthy. Penn Highlands has a lot of resources that can help you choose heart healthy foods and make other choices for heart health.

The best way to maintain or improve your heart health is to have a primary care doctor who you see regularly. Penn Highlands primary care providers are focused on wellness and can help you determine your risk for heart disease. Then, your doctor can help you come up with a plan for reducing your risk of heart problems, if necessary, or simply maintaining your heart health. That plan starts with lifestyle choices, including a heart healthy diet, exercise, stress management, and more.

Heart Healthy Diet

What you eat both directly and indirectly affects your heart health. A poor diet—one that’s high in salt, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats—can cause high blood pressure and your arteries to become clogged from cholesterol. It also increases your risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, two major risk factors for heart disease.

A heart healthy diet can do wonders for your heart. Eating mostly whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control, your weight in check, and your risk for diabetes low.

Penn Highlands nutrition and diabetes educators can educate you on which heart healthy foods you should be eating more of and which foods to avoid. They also can help you create a heart healthy eating plan that you’ll actually enjoy that includes tasty recipes and tips.

How does Exercise affect Heart Health?

Physical activity protects you from heart disease by lowering your blood pressure and helping you maintain a healthy body weight, which lowers your risk diabetes. Exercise also reduces underlying inflammation, which can lead to clogged arteries. Penn Highlands cardiologists recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week or more for your heart health.

If you have heart problems or are at high risk for heart disease, you may be apprehensive about being physically active. Ask your doctor about the Penn Highlands cardiac rehabilitation program. Under the supervision of clinical staff, you’ll learn to exercise without fear of stressing your heart. Our friendly cardiac rehabilitation therapists also will give you lots of workout tips to use at home or the gym.

How does Smoking affect Heart Health?

Cigarette smoke harms every part of the body, especially your heart. Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for heart disease. The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the insides of your blood vessels. And when damage occurs, plaque is more likely to build up on your blood vessel walls, which restricts the flow of blood to your heart.

Penn Highlands can help you quit smoking—for good. Start by talking to your doctor about how to quit. Then join our smoking cessation support group, which meets monthly at The Lung Center at Penn Highlands DuBois.

How does Stress affect Heart Health?

The connection between stress and heart problems is still unclear. But what we do know is that stress makes it more likely you’ll engage in behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking ,and making poor food choices. It’s also believed that there is a link between stress and chronic inflammation. And research has proven those behaviors have a negative impact on your heart health.

Penn Highlands integrates physical, mental, and behavioral health services at each of our hospitals. If you’re having trouble dealing with stress, our skilled team of psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed professional counselors is here to help with psychological assessment, medication management, and psychosocial therapy.

Tests to Monitor Heart Disease Risk

It’s important to keep up with screenings to keep an eye on your heart health. Penn Highlands cardiologists recommend asking your primary care doctor about the following tests:

  • Blood pressure check
  • Cholesterol panel
  • Blood glucose test
  • Atrial fibrillation screening
  • Peripheral vascular disease screening
  • Cardiovascular risk assessment

In addition, if you have more serious symptoms, your Penn Highlands cardiologist might recommend an echocardiogram, Holter monitoring, or other type of heart test.

Risk Factors of Heart Disease

It’s estimated that 80 percent of heart attacks and strokes are preventable through lifestyle choices described above. But there are factors that can raise your risk for heart problems that you can’t change. A Penn Highlands cardiologist can recommend a special screening schedule if you are at high risk for heart disease. Factors that can elevate your risk of heart disease that you can’t change include:

  • Personal history of heart attack or stroke.
  • Family history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, or diabetes.
  • Age. Your risk for heart problems increases with age.
  • Race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Native Americans are at increased risk for heart disease.

You can work with your primary care doctor on setting up a heart-healthy plan for diet, exercise, and regular screenings. If you need a primary care doctor, find one here.

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