Know your numbers and keep your heart healthy

Chronic conditions can be monitored with simple tests

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  • Tanya Baldwin, M.D., is a Mercy family physician.
    Tanya Baldwin, M.D., is a Mercy family physician.

    When was the last time you had your blood pressure or cholesterol checked? If it has been close to a year or longer, make an appointment with your primary care physician today.

    Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can be monitored with simple tests and knowing your numbers. These conditions are also major risk factors for heart disease. Proper management of these conditions, whether it’s lifestyle choices, medication, or a combination of both, can prevent the development of long-term health issues, including heart problems, and sometimes even reverse some of the damage that has been done.

    Here’s a list of the basic numbers you should know to ensure a healthy heart:

    • Blood pressure
    • Cholesterol
    • HDL
    • LDL
    • Total
    • Ratio
    • Triglycerides
    • Fasting glucose
    • Weight
    • Body Mass Index (BMI)
    • Waist measurement

    It’s recommended that healthy adults, older than 30 should have their numbers checked once a year. Those with high cholesterol should have their numbers checked more regularly, every three to six months. Patients who know their numbers can work, if necessary, to change their lifestyle and help their hearts.

    More patients, especially women, are becoming more aware of their cardiovascular health and adopting a proactive stance when it comes to preventing heart disease and stroke. In addition to exercising and eating right, it’s very important to incorporate things into your lifestyle that help you de-stress and refocus on the things that are most important and most productive.

    Even those with numbers in the preferred ranges can do things to keep their hearts vigorous and strong. Listed below are four steps toward a healthy heart.

    Stress management. Stress can increase blood pressure as well as create chemical reactions in the body that can bring on a cardiac event. Signs of stress include: mild, nagging headache, difficulty sleeping, extreme fatigue, irrationality, and forgetfulness. One way to combat stress is to add things in your life to de-stress. Exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, enjoying a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are good ways to deal with stress.

    Physical activity. By exercising for as little as 30 minutes a day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, studies show that for every hour of walking, you might increase your life expectancy by two hours. Walking is the simplest way to start and continue a fitness journey.

    Nutrition. A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons in the fight against heart disease. By using guidelines and making smart choices you can benefit your heart and overall health. What you put in your body helps determine how your body functions. Examples of foods that can help are fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins but because the average American does not get in their diet all the nutrients that are needed to function properly, a multi-vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended.

    Tobacco cessation. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease for men and women. About 20 percent of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are directly related to cigarette smoking. Studies show that the nicotine present in cigarettes causes, decreased oxygen to the heart, increased blood pressure and heart rate, increase in blood clotting, and damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels. A person's risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. Smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke as well.

    So, how about a plan for a healthier heart? Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. A healthier heart can prevent heart attacks, strokes, coronary artery disease (CAD), congestive heart failure (CHF), renal failure (kidneys shut down), and other serious conditions that can lead to disabilities and early death.

    Tanya Baldwin, M.D., is a Mercy family physician. For more information, go to