It’s American Heart Month and Dr. Ronald Grifka of University of Michigan Health-West has some simple tips for maintaining the health of your most important love muscle.
The recent cardiac arrest of the Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin during a Monday Night Football game coincides with the beginning of American Heart Month, and the annual February focus on cardiovascular health. Focus is needed for any health plan to be a success, but executing that plan poses a distinct challenge.
With many new research studies, medications, supplements and therapies available, formulating a health plan that most adults can maintain throughout the year can be confusing. Here are five tips that should be both sustainable and successful.
1. Diet and exercise
The familiar trope ― more exercise, healthier diet ― remains the best place to start. The benefits to your heart of a healthy diet and exercise can fill a library of books.
The typical American diet is riddled with too many calories, excessive carbohydrates, and the wrong type of fats. An unhealthy diet can lead to numerous health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, strokes and cancer, just to name a few. Billions of dollars are spent on these health problems caused by an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
Without making changes, an unhealthy lifestyle can rob us from months and years of great life with our family and friends. Are those chips, dips and large sodas more valuable than another healthy year or two with your kids? Grandkids? Friends? Travel?
Let’s make 2024 the year we get off the couch, put down the remote control and cell phone, choose a small beverage (instead of the supersize) and get some exercise.
2. Drink more water
As we eat better and exercise more, another health problem comes into focus: chronic dehydration.
Sixty percent of our body is water, so better hydration is beneficial to many bodily systems ― including circulation. Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. It helps the muscles work more efficiently, effectively reducing the heart stress on well-hydrated individuals.
A myriad of problems results from dehydration, including muscle cramps, fatigue, headaches, and immune system dysfunction, just to name a few. Take your water bottle to work or school, fill it several times a day, and enjoy the benefits of drinking water. The cost is almost nothing, while the benefits are enormous.
3. Remember your annual check-up
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person health examinations and preventative studies were canceled. Now is the time to make sure you see your health care provider to get a thorough physical examination and recommended tests (blood work, x-rays, etc). These include screenings for diabetes, hypertension, and other diseases of the heart.
In addition to annual check-ups, don’t forget any important screening tests for your demographic group, such as a colonoscopy or mammogram. As the pandemic wanes, we are starting to see patients returning for evaluation. Unfortunately, we are detecting advanced health problems that were ignored during the pandemic. The treatment for these ignored problems will be more demanding, aggressive, expensive ― and possibly less successful.
See your healthcare provider soon to get a thorough physical exam, and recommended tests to prevent any avoidable health problems.
4. Quit smoking
The U.S. has done an amazing job to decrease cigarette smoking. The detrimental health effects of smoking are profound, well-documented, and affect every system in the body.
In the last few years, however, vaping and legalized recreational marijuana use have eroded our progress. Heart attacks are among the many side effects of smoking, which also include oral cancers, lung cancers, strokes and COPD (emphysema). Chemicals used in popular vape flavors like clove, mint and vanilla can harm blood vessel cells that help keep the heart healthy.
Make 2024 the year to not light up or vape. Get help.
One additional concern to mention: we all need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. This might mean turning off the TV, not surfing the internet as long, or putting down our video games.
Studies show short sleep duration or poor sleep quality is associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Habitual short sleep increases the chance of cardiovascular events.
Sleep also keeps us alert and attentive for the following day. Get a good night’s sleep, so the following day is yours to conquer!
About the author
Ronald G. Grifka, MD, FAAP, FACC, FSCAI is the Chief Medical Officer of University of Michigan Health-West, and Cardiologist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Dr. Grifka oversees and provides leadership and medical education to more than 500 physicians at University of Michigan Health-West and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Cardiology, and the Society of Cardiac Angiography and Intervention. Dr. Grifka has recently been featured in Medical News Today, Healthline, and Medscape.