When to get to the heart of the matter.

You’re sitting at your office or at home, focused on several tasks, and your resting heart rate is around 60-100 beats per minute. While you do nothing, your heart continues to beat. But did you know that sitting for over eight hours a day can increase your risk of heart disease? While sedentary lifestyles are not the most damaging to this beloved organ, every step you take toward prioritizing heart health makes a difference.

Look for the Signs

“Here in the United States, above and beyond, the most common heart condition people are at risk for is coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Zachary Luebbering, cardiologist at Capital Region Medical Center.

This condition, also known as CAD, is when blockages limit the blood flow to the heart. People with a low risk for CAD live an average of 10 years longer than those who are at risk. Consider your daily activities. Does your chest feel tight when you cook, clean, or shower? If so, you may need to speak with your primary care provider about your heart health.

“A healthy heart is one that fulfills your needs,” Dr. Luebbering says.

There are also several indicators to monitor that can decrease your risk for cardiac challenges.

“Here in the United States, above and beyond, the most common heart condition people are at risk for is coronary artery disease.”


Know The Risks

By avoiding atherosclerosis (i.e., the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances near the arterial artery walls) you’ll decrease your risk of CAD, heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, and other heart health conditions. Major risk factors for blockages include smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and poor diets that negatively affect the heart.

Developing at least some healthy habits can also decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most common in adults, however, the rise in child obesity increases the condition in youth. According to the American Diabetes Association, one in nine people will have diabetes by 2030. The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. Notable signs include increased hunger, unintended weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 1 in 9 people will have diabetes by 2030.

Another condition that causes hypertension, or high blood pressure, is atherosclerotic plaque. A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. When the blood applies too much pressure to the artery walls, it becomes a chronic condition that can gradually cause bigger problems over time. However, sometimes a person’s blood pressure rises so quickly it becomes a medical emergency such as blindness, chest pain, heart attack, memory loss or trouble concentrating, severe damage to the aortic dissection, stroke, pulmonary edema, or a sudden loss of kidney function. It is important to monitor for hypertension because some people may experience no symptoms of hypertension at all while others may experience signs like early morning headaches, nose bleeds, or an irregular heart rhythm. Doctors recommend anyone under 40 monitor their blood pressure once every two years. Individuals over 40 should have their blood pressure taken once a year.

Heart Healthy Habits

Diet and exercise both play a part. To prevent illness, health care professionals recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise daily that elevates your heart rate. In his free time, Dr. Luebbering enjoys staying active by swimming, biking, and running with his dogs George and Charlie. While exercising, it’s a good idea to watch out for the warning signs of heart issues.

“Make sure that when you exert yourself, you’re not having any chest pain or swelling in your legs throughout the day.”

If you feel lightheaded, dizzy, see spots as if you may pass out while exercising or while performing everyday activities, it may be time to ask your doctor how to alleviate these symptoms. Frequent exercise can also help manage stress, another risk factor for heart disease, and heart attacks. Sometimes, we don’t notice how stress impacts our bodies until it’s too late. Be mindful of your triggers to help prevent spikes since stress levels can lead to high blood pressure, another risk factor. And adding self-care practices to your morning or evening routine can make a significant difference. Just five minutes can change your overall health. Maintaining a balanced diet goes hand in hand with heart-healthy habits.

“A lot of the reasons why we stress diet in the U.S. and other places is because we want to maintain a healthy weight that promotes heart health.”

Try these habits:
Exercise >30 minutes a day; try plant-based meat alternatives;
avoid too much sugar; go to the doctor annually

Replacing red meat, like beef and pork, with plant-based options, or a Mediterranean-style diet, is known to increase heart health over time. Try to avoid eating too much sugar, overindulging in sweets, and consuming foods with high additives and preservatives. Many individuals are undiagnosed or lack access to quality prevention tactics. Going to the doctor annually is the first step to ensuring you are in good health.

“There are people all around us that are having blockages in their heart arteries at varying stages of this disease, and for some people, this is something that can be fatal. For some, it can be a chronic condition that they live with for a long time.”