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3 things you can do right now to take control of your heart health


January 14, 2022
January 14, 2022

Even with the continuing pandemic, an old foe — heart disease — is still the top cause of death in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease that results in heart attacks, strokes and heart failure is responsible for about one in four deaths in the United States.

And COVID-19 poses a greater threat to those who are at risk or already have heart disease. The CDC warns that having heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and possibly high blood pressure (hypertension) can make you more likely to get severely ill if you contract COVID-19.

While there isn’t a magic pill that can prevent or cure heart disease, there is good news. You can take action to lower your risk of developing heart disease and prevent heart attacks, heart failure and stroke. February is Heart Month and a great time to take control of your heart health.

Here are three things you can do starting today.

1. Learn about heart disease and understand your risk

The first step you can take toward improving your heart health is one of the easiest. Simply learning more about heart disease, what causes it, what symptoms to look for, and how lifestyle choices affect it can start you down the road to a healthier heart.

Information on heart health is just a click away.

BJC HealthCare offers a a free heart risk quiz. This quick assessment can help you discover important information about your heart health and risks factors. It will:

  • Compare your actual age to your heart's biological age.
  • Calculate your 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you are younger than 60, you will also learn your 30-year risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Prioritize your most harmful cardiovascular risk factors.

2. Get a handle on your blood pressure

An estimated 75 million Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Million Hearts Initiative. Untreated, it’s one of the top risk factors for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer,” because it seldom has any external signs or symptoms. But a doctor or other health care provider can easily measure your blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff.

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: Systolic blood pressure (the top number) indicates the pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls during heartbeats. Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls between beats. A reading of 120/80 is considered normal.

Factors including heredity, age and lifestyle can contribute to high blood pressure. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only increased some of those factors, including stress, isolation, sleep problems, poor diet and less exercise. Doctors are already seeing the results.

A study released by the American Heart Association (AHA) in December found that at the height of the pandemic in 2020, blood pressure measurements were significantly higher across the United States compared to 2019. The AHA warned that this could lead to a wave of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes in the future.

But having high blood pressure doesn’t mean heart attack, stroke and heart failure are inevitable. Studies show that taking control of your heart health can lower your risk.

Here are things you can do to take control of your blood pressure:

  • Know your numbers — Get a baseline reading of your blood pressure. Your primary care provider will routinely check your numbers during office visits.
  • Talk to your doctor — A reading of 120/80 is usually considered normal. If either number is higher, ask your doctor what that means for you and whether you need medication to regulate it.
  • Make lifestyle changes — Losing weight, exercising more, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and lowering your salt intake can go a long way toward bringing your blood pressure under control.
  • Track your blood pressure at home — Blood pressure cuffs are relatively inexpensive (and covered under most health care spending accounts) and easy to use. Track your blood pressure daily to make sure it’s under control.

3. Make heart healthy lifestyle choices

While you can’t change risk factors like age or heredity, you can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly by making healthy lifestyle choices. The American Heart Association recommends you follow seven simple steps:

  • control your cholesterol
  • reduce your blood sugar
  • manage your blood pressure
  • get active
  • eat heart healthy
  • manage your weight
  • stop smoking

While some of these changes may seem daunting at first, you don’t have to do them all at once. Your health care provider can give you tools and connect you with resources to help you along the way.

Check online resources like the American Heart Association website for more information and tips. Feel that you need to consult a heart specialist? With office locations conveniently located across St. Louis, BJC’s team of cardiologists and primary care physicians are ready to support you. Call 866-604-3365 for more information or to schedule a consultation.

Remember, taking even a small step can start you on the journey to a healthier heart.

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