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‘Essential 8’ Offers Ways to Care for Heart Health

Last updated: February 20, 2024

Much of the power to improve your heart health lies in your hands. Start taking positive steps today.

Dr. Ameer Kabour, Senior Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services, ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care

Cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 killer of adults in America. The good news is that you can significantly lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other heart-related problems by working on a few key aspects of your wellness.

“People should understand that 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable,” says Dr. Ameer Kabour, a Cardiologist and Senior Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services for ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “Positive lifestyle choices can make a big difference.”

The American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8” resource is a great place to start when it comes to building heart-healthy habits. Embrace these guidelines and show your heart a little love.

1. Stop smoking

“One of the most impactful things you can do to improve your health is to stop using tobacco products,” Dr. Kabour says. “Using any inhaled nicotine product — including e-cigarettes — ups your risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Tobacco products are addictive, and it can be hard to quit. Talk to your primary care provider about your options for quitting.

2. Eat healthier

A diet consisting mainly of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts and seeds can help you stay healthy. Consider exploring the Mediterranean diet.  

“Choosing a healthy diet is a simple way to greatly reduce your chance of developing heart disease and other chronic diseases in your lifetime,” Dr. Kabour says.

3. Get active

“Even light activity can help improve your heart health,” Dr. Kabour says. “But ideally, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, which is the recommendation for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Consider also adding moderate- to high-intensity strength or resistance training to your routine twice a week. Kids should have 60 minutes of activity every day, including play time or sports.

Talk to your primary care provider about adding or intensifying physical activity, particularly if you’ve been sedentary.

4. Sleep well

The American Heart Association says most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night (kids require even more).

“Getting enough sleep allows our bodies and brains to heal and recharge,” Dr. Kabour says. “Sleep also reduces our risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease.”

Build this good habit by exercising regularly, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and turning off screens at least an hour before you turn in. If you’re struggling with sleep, talk to your primary care provider.

5. Manage weight

Pay attention to your body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of your weight in relation to your height. An optimal range is between 18.5 and 25. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered medically obese and significantly increases your risk of heart disease and other diseases.

“Maintaining a healthy weight is absolutely one of the best things you can do for your health,” Dr. Kabour says. “Talk to your provider about healthy ways you can lose extra weight.”

6. Combat cholesterol

High levels of LDL cholesterol — often called bad cholesterol — can lead to heart disease. A healthy lifestyle can help you manage your cholesterol levels. In some cases, your provider may prescribe a medication to help lower your cholesterol.

“Getting your cholesterol tested is important because it has no signs or symptoms,” Dr. Kabour says. “Almost two in five adults in the U.S. have cholesterol levels that are too high, putting them at risk for developing heart disease or stroke.”

7. Monitor blood sugar

The food you consume is converted into glucose that is turned into energy. People who have diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease, because high glucose (blood sugar) can damage the blood vessels as well as the nerves that control the heart.

“With diabetes, you’re also more likely to possess certain risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, both of which increase the chance of heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Kabour says.

Monitor your hemoglobin A1c to know if you may be diabetic or prediabetic. Managing the condition — or heading it off — is important in protecting your heart.

8. Regulate blood pressure

High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer,” and with good reason. It puts you at great risk for heart disease and stroke, and you may not know that you have high blood pressure unless you’re monitoring it. High blood pressure impacts nearly half of all adults.

A blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg or lower is optimal. Blood pressure over 130/80 mmHg is considered high. Even people with a history of healthy blood pressure can experience increases as they age or gain weight.

You can improve your blood pressure through dietary changes. About 90 percent of Americans consume too much salt, which raises your blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet of fresh foods can help you avoid eating too much sodium, because extra salt is hidden in most processed foods.

“Remember, much of the power to improve your heart health lies in your hands,” Dr. Kabour says. “Start taking positive steps today.”

Track and manage heart health risks.

Tags: American Heart Association Essential 8 exercise healthy diet heart disease heart health sleep health smoking cessation

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