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A Little “Lagniappe” for Your Heart

A Little “Lagniappe” for Your Heart

The year 2024 is a “leap year,” meaning we get one more day in the year to do something “a little something extra” for our health. Conveniently, the extra day falls during American Heart Month, reminding us to stay vigilant about the threat of heart disease and promote healthy heart habits and lifestyles.

By following these seven simple steps, from Lake Charles Memorial Health System cardiologists, you can improve your heart health and your life. Talk to your doctor for more information about preventing heart disease.

Make fitness your friend. “Any physical activity that raises your heart rate—known as aerobic exercise—helps strengthen your heart muscle, which makes it easier for your heart to pump vital blood to your lungs and other parts of your body. Exercise also lowers your risk of developing conditions—like high blood pressure or an unhealthy weight—that are harmful to your heart,” says Dr. Christopher Thompson.

Find activities that you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine. Try walking. Or try digging in a garden, playing basketball, riding a bike, swimming or even dancing around the house.

Watch your blood pressure. Keep an eye on your blood pressure numbers to ensure it’s in the zone your health care provider recommends. Many times, high blood pressure, or hypertension, has no obvious symptoms to indicate that something is wrong.

“Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) are considered within the normal range,” Dr. Edward Bergen reminds us.

Choose healthy fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Dr. Ahmad Awan recommends looking for monounsaturated fats, typically found in nuts, olive or canola oil, and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in foods like fatty fish, such as salmon or sardines; seeds, such as chia, hemp or flaxseeds; walnuts; and eggs. Choosing lean meats like fish or poultry without skin and cooking with olive oil are easy ways to help lower your risk of heart disease.

Cut back on saturated fats. “These fats raise the levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood. High LDL cholesterol can cause heart disease,” says Dr. Kurt Duncan.

Foods like red meat and full-fat dairy products contain saturated fats. So do tropical oils. It’s easy to spot a saturated fat because they are typically solid at room temperature.

Limit sugars. A lot of processed foods contain added sugars. Eating too much sugar increases your risk for heart disease. Read food labels to reduce your added sugar intake. Limit foods with ingredients like corn syrup or sugar or with ingredients ending in -ose. One easy swap is to replace dessert with fresh fruits, use spices like ginger or cinnamon to enhance flavors, and drink unsweetened beverages to cut back on how much sugar you consume.

“High amounts of added sugar over time can result in higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease —all are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Karl Duncan.

Get the right amount of sleep: “Getting enough quality sleep is as important for your heart health as eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising,” explains Dr. Clay Hammett.

Sleeping less than seven hours or more than nine hours at night may increase your risk of heart disease. To get a better night's sleep, try going to bed at the same time every night; keeping electronics out of the bedroom; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and large meals close to bedtime; sleeping in a dark and quiet environment; and getting plenty of physical activity during the day.

Be a quitter, adjust smoking habits. “If you smoke, your heart will thank you if you quit. Over time smoking takes a toll on your blood vessels and increases your risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Kevin Young.

To help you quit, there are nicotine replacement and other medicines that can ease the cravings for cigarettes. Joining a support group may also aid you in quitting. Simply reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke in a day may help you finally stop.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Food and Drug Administration; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute