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When it Comes to Heart Health, You’re In Control

Last updated: July 7, 2021

As summer unfolds, we relish taking part in social activities with family and friends. Given that, heart health may not be top of mind. But the heat of summer can put extra stress on your heart, so it pays to take precautions. As you head out for the highly anticipated season of fun in the sun, consider a few simple ways to protect your heart.

Know Common Risk Factors

“Several risk factors can predispose people to a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack,” says Dr. Ameer Kabour, a Cardiologist and Senior Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services for ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care.

Common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and tobacco use. These affect not only your cardiovascular health, but all organ systems.

One of the best ways to know if you’re at risk for heart problems is to pay attention to your body.

“If someone is at risk of having a heart attack, more often than not, they’ll see red flags pop up weeks, months, sometimes even years in advance,” Dr. Kabour says. “If you’re noticing chest pains or shortness of breath every time you walk, don’t ignore your symptoms. Seek medical care.”

That said, focusing on cardiovascular health isn’t limited to people who have had heart conditions in the past or who are at heightened risk of heart failure. Anyone can help prevent heart disease from happening or recurring with the right lifestyle adjustments.

“At the most basic level, people should avoid tobacco use and maintain good sleep hygiene,” Dr. Kabour says. “Beyond that, it’s mostly about moving more and eating a healthy diet.”

Exercise Regularly

With its warmer weather and longer days, summer is a great time to establish a new fitness routine. Consider hitting the walking or biking trails. People with arthritis, obesity, or balance issues can try water-based activities like swimming or water aerobics.   

“Swimming or walking in the water provides buoyancy and takes pressure off the joints,” Dr, Kabour says. “This can be particularly helpful for someone struggling with extra weight or joint pain.”

Regardless of the season, the American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of rigorous activity each week. Dr. Kabour estimates that if everyone in the U.S. reduced their amount of inactivity or sedentary time by just 10%, it would save many thousands of lives per year.

If getting active feels daunting, remember that aerobic activity isn’t restricted to traditional exercises like jogging, swimming, or biking.

“Other activities include dancing, gardening, yard work, or even just routine walks where the person maintains a certain duration or distance,” Dr Kabour says. “Regular activity can make a huge difference when it comes to heart health.”

If you’re not fit or don’t exercise regularly, you can still establish a routine. But Dr. Kabour cautions advises taking it slow.

“Take it one step at a time and set realistic goals,” he says. “Listen to your body as you’re exercising.”

It’s OK to push yourself a little farther each time, but watch out for signs that you may be going too fast, such as having significant joint pain or feeling like your body is overwhelmed, Dr. Kabour says. In those cases, it’s best to slow down.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

“Following a healthy diet is also crucial,” Dr. Kabour says. “This includes choosing healthier ingredients, counting calories, and managing portion sizes.”

For people with obesity, especially, the best way to break the cycle of weight gain is to focus on dietary change, Dr. Kabour says.

“Optimizing your diet is the best way to lose weight,” he says. “You lose weight by eating less. You keep the weight off by maintaining consistent diet and exercise. Exercise is important for cardiovascular health and keeping the weight off, but when it comes to significant weight loss upfront, a healthy diet is critical.”

For people struggling to get started, Dr. Kabour suggests making gradual changes.

“Even little changes can make a big difference,” he says. “Instead of sugary drinks, try water or unsweetened tea. People are amazed at how many calories they end up cutting out daily just by eliminating things like soda.”

Mind the Heat

Managing your heart health can require a little extra effort during the summer months. Rising temperatures can put the heart under additional stress, increasing the chance of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Dr. Kabour emphasizes two key preventive measures:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to support healthy blood levels and minimize strain on your heart.
  • Take it slow. This is particularly important on hot, humid days. At-risk groups include older adults, people with existing heart disease, and people taking medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and psychiatric conditions.

“We can provide people counseling, guidance, and tools to better protect their heart health, but it’s really up to each person to make a change,” Dr. Kabour says. “Giving up smoking, getting serious about weight loss, and staying smart in the summer heat are critical to avoiding heart problems. I cannot overstate the importance of taking a serious and proactive approach to establishing a heart-healthy lifestyle.”

Are you at increased risk for heart disease? Find out for with an online or in-person screening.

Tags: cardiovascular care exercise healthy diet heart health heart risk factors

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