7 Steps to Optimize Your Cardiovascular Health

Susan Szulc, MD

Recently the American Heart Association published seven behaviors and factors associated with cardiovascular health, termed “The Simple 7.”  Recent studies also suggest that these seven guidelines may also decrease stroke risk!

  1. Regular Physical Activity. Aim for 150 min of moderate intensity or 75 min of vigorous intensity every week. This essentially equates to 30 min of cardiovascular activity 5 days a week. Tips: Start small.  For example, go for a 10 min walk at lunch.  Increase by 10 min/week until you are doing 30 min/day. Don’t have 30 min to spare during the week?  Try doing longer sessions on fewer days/week.  You could do an hour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and still reach your goal.  Remember the goal is total time.
  2. Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). More specifically a BMI under <25 kg/m2. BMI is determined by height and weight. Physical activity and a healthy diet will help you reach your goals. (Learn your BMI with this quick online tool!)
  3. Healthy, Well-Rounded Diet. Aim for the following changes to your diet:
    – Fruits and veggies: ≥4.5 cups/day
    -Fish: two servings (3.5 ounces each)/week
    -Fiber-rich whole grains: ≥3 one ounce servings/day or 25 grams of fiber/day.  Start each morning with a high-fiber cereal or oatmeal; it’s an easy way to sneak in fiber every day.
    -Sodium <1500mg/day.  Limit canned items, frozen dinners and don’t add extra salt to meals.
    -Sugar-sweetened beverages: ≤ 35 ounces (450 kcal)/week.  Cutting out these empty calories will help you lose weight too.
  4. Never smoked or quit more than a year ago. There is no better time to quit smoking than right now.  There are many smoking cessation aids available, like 1-800-QUITNOW. Your primary care physician can help put you in touch with other resources for free support
  5. Total cholesterol <200 mg/dL. Genetics and lifestyle (diet/exercise) determine cholesterol. If you’re worried, or if you have a family history of high cholesterol, you should ask your primary care physician if a cholesterol screening is right for you. Medications may be required to get to your goal.
  6. Blood pressure <120/80 mmHg. Here’s another factor that’s only partially under your control.  You can’t change your genes, but you can change your lifestyle. Tips: Check your blood pressure next time you are at the grocery store or drug store.  You may be surprised! Follow a low salt diet and exercise.  But, medications may be required to get to your goal.
  7. Fasting blood glucose <100 mg/dL. Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, physical inactivity, history of gestational diabetes and family history. Symptoms of diabetes include urinating frequently and feeling thirsty. Ask your primary care physician about screening for diabetes.

About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.

+Read Dr. Szulc’s articles on health and wellness topics!

Sources:
American Heart Association http://mylifecheck.heart.org
Circulation: Life’s Simple 7 and Risk of Incident Stroke in Black and White Americans: Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study
http://www.smokingstopshere.com/

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