Can you think of something in your body that contracts around 70 times per minute? Did you guess your heart? That’s right, the heart! The heart contracts its muscle, or pumps, 70 times per minute on average for adults. That is approximately 2.5 billion times in your lifetime! 

Most people know that February is all about hearts. Candy hearts with cute messages, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and cute heart-shaped valentine’s cards. To help us all focus on the importance of heart health, February is also heart health month. This month is the time to focus on how to get your heart healthier and how to maintain a healthy heart. 

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 2,300 people die from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) every day. That is more people every day than all types of cancers combined. Sadly, the number of people impacted by heart disease continues to increase each year. 

The good news, in many cases heart disease is preventable! Let’s explore what heart disease is and ways that you can get and maintain a healthy heart. 

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is caused by a buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in the walls of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries surround the outside of the heart and supply nutrients and oxygen to the heart, which are critical to keep the heart functioning properly. The buildup of plaque in the arteries decreases the space for blood to flow to the heart. Decreased nutrients and oxygen weakens the heart over time. A weakened heart, or a sudden blockage of plaque in the arteries, can lead to symptoms like chest pain, discomfort, or to a heart attack.

There are several different heart diseases including coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, or congenital heart diseases. Overall, heart disease refers to any disease impacting the heart.

Are you at risk for heart disease?

Heart disease is beginning to affect younger adults due to a combination of conditions and behaviors. Conditions and behaviors that can affect your risk for heart disease include:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol 
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Poor Diet

If you are struggling with any of these items, contact your primary care provider. Optimal Sports Physical Therapy can also help. We have a great referral network and can get you connected with the right physicians for your care. 

What are the signs of heart disease?

Symptoms of heart disease may go unnoticed for a long-time. In fact, many in the early stages of heart disease will have no symptoms at all. It’s important to have regular check-ups. But, contact your doctor right away if you are feeling any chest pain, pressure, or discomfort. When visiting your physician, tell them if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Chest pain during physical activity that gets better with rest
  • Headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, or confusion
  • Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or when lying flat
  • Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs

If at any time these symptoms become worse visit your local emergency room or call 911 for help.

5 Ways to Get and Maintain a Healthy Heart

Physical Activity

Your heart is a muscle. Like all of your other muscles, physical exercise can help build your heart’s strength. Research suggests that 1 in 5 Americans do not get enough heart-healthy exercise. Try incorporating exercises that will get you breathing heavy. Exercises like walking at a brisk pace, jumping rope, dancing, or playing a sport. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Avoid sitting for long periods of time to optimize your heart health. Do you need some ideas on how to incorporate heart-healthy exercise into your routine? Any of the Physical Therapists at Optimal Sports Physical Therapy would be happy to help. Give us a call at 406-502-1782. 

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. When you smoke, your arteries tighten making the heart work harder. In addition, smoking can trigger irregular heart rhythms and raise blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke in adults. Smoking can also damage blood vessels which can lead to heart disease.  Ready to quit? Consult with your physician on your best support options. 

Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

A heart-healthy diet starts by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Fruits and vegetables provide the body with Vitamin C and beta-carotene. These nutrients help to slow or reduce the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Reducing your risk of heart disease. Try fruits and vegetables like berries, oranges, tomatoes, avocado, and leafy greens.

Avoid processed foods and foods high in sugar and sodium. Foods such as pre-packaged snacks, sugary cereals, and sodas contain saturated fat and trans fat. Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat can increase your heart disease risks. Are you ready to embrace healthy eating habits? Learn more about heart-healthy eating from the American Heart Association

Manage Stress

Everyone feels and reacts to stress differently. Yet, high levels of stress can affect behaviors and factors that can increase your heart disease risk. Behaviors like poor diet or smoking can lead to increased weight gain or high blood pressure. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, decreasing caffeine, and talking with a specialist are all ways to manage stress. And, reduce your risk for heart disease.  

Control Your Diabetes, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure

Uncontrolled diabetes, cholesterol, and high blood pressure increase your risk of heart disease. Follow your physician’s advice for managing these conditions. Take medications as prescribed, attend regular check-ups, and complete preventative testing. 

For many of those impacted, heart disease is preventable. By making healthy choices, quitting smoking, and monitoring issues like high cholesterol, you can reduce your risk for heart disease. More importantly, by following these same healthy choices you can maintain your heart health as you age. 
The Optimal Sports Physical Therapy team is here to support you on your journey to a healthier heart! Give us a call today at 406-502-1782 and let us know how we can help support you! If you’re interested in learning more about heart disease, the warning signs, or the healthy choices to reduce your heart disease risk – visit the American Heart Association.