Your heart is pretty, darn incredible. Weighing in at a mere 10 ounces, this fist-sized organ can pump blood through about 100,000 miles of branching blood vessels to every, single cell in your adult body in under a minute. Literally, in the time it takes you to read this paragraph your heart will have pumped blood through vessels, which if placed end-to-end, would stretch around the earth about four times.
Yet it’s also an organ that is put to the test by our hectic, calorie-laden, stress-filled existence. Heart disease is the number one killer in America. Every year, cardiovascular problems cause half of US male deaths, a third of them by complete surprise. Women aren’t immune either. Heart disease kills more women than men every year; almost every minute, a woman in the U.S. dies from it. These are grim statistics, yes. But the good news is that with a little bit of organization and work, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.
Here are four things you must organize to proactively protect your heart health. Make a pact with yourself (and family members) to cross these things off of your list by the end of the month. For added motivation and accountability, check in with us on your progress at facebook.com/getbuttonedup.
1. Get Screened During Your Annual Physical.
Regular cardiovascular screening is a critical tool for maintaining cardiovascular health because can help you identify risk factors before they are a significant problem. Every adult over the age of 20 should get the regular cardiovascular screening tests each year. Be sure you and your doctor discuss the results and general trends of your blood pressure and cholesterol level checks – sometimes a look at the cold, hard data can be just the wakeup call you need to change your dietary and exercise habits. If you are over the age of 45, you should also get blood glucose levels checked, and if you are “high risk,” you may want to ask your doctor about getting a C-reactive protein (CRP) test, which can be used to evaluate your risk of developing coronary artery disease. If you haven’t scheduled your annual physical yet and it’s been more than a year since you have seen your doctor, do not finish reading this article. Stop. Go pick up your phone, call your physician, and book your physical.
2. Know What Questions to Ask Your Health Provider.
Did you know that heart disease manifests itself differently in men than it does in women? Is your doctor aware of your family history or heart disease? It is critical that you have an open and productive dialogue with your physician about your risks, recommended tests, etc. The Boston Scientific website has some excellent sample questions to help get you started. But the bottom line is: don’t be afraid to ask. There is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to proactively managing your health.
3. Move for 30 Minutes Most Days.
An in-depth study by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health showed that your cardio respiratory fitness level is the number one predictor of death. In lay terms, that’s your fitness level. The best way to boost it: walk for 30 minutes every day. If you haven’t seen this informative, animated You Tube video from Dr. Mike Evans about the profound impact of exercise, you should watch it today.
4. Turn Out the Lights Earlier.
Getting enough sleep is important for more than beauty reasons. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that too little sleep is linked to increased calcium buildup in your arteries, which can lead to the plaques that cause heart attacks and strokes. The study found that one hour less of sleep per night leads to a 16% increase in coronary calcium. So this month, start tracking how many hours of sleep you get a night. If you notice that you are routinely getting less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night, make an effort to out the lights earlier. If you need it, set an alarm to ring 30 minutes before your ideal bedtime as it’s easy to get lost in a TV show, your friends’ Facebook status stream, and emails. But none of them are worth your health, right?