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February is American Heart Health Month. This month the American Heart Association will remind us to “Know your health numbers.” These numbers are blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body weight and BMI (body mass index). And while it’s important to stay on top of your health numbers in February, it’s just as important to focus on heart health goals the other eleven months of the year, if we wish to remain healthy and extend our lifespan.
The easiest numbers to keep track of (at home) are body weight/BMI and blood pressure. Even if you don’t own a blood pressure monitor, most pharmacies have one available for customer use. When you see your physician – hopefully, at least once per year – you can have your cholesterol and blood sugar levels measured. Unfortunately, most of us are not doing what is necessary to meet good heart health goals.
According to WebMD,
“Meeting just four of seven simple goals for ideal heart health – such as maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly – can cut your risk of dying by about half, researchers report.
“But in a nationwide study of nearly 18,000 adults, fewer than three in 10 people reached four of the seven goals. And only two people met all seven criteria for top-notch heart health.”1
The 7 Heart Health Goals
- Maintain a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.5. The National Institutes of Health offers a calculator on their website. Use it to discover your current number and set a goal for better heart health
- Exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week
- Quit smoking (for at least a year) or never start smoking
- Keep your cholesterol levels below 200mg per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Maintain a blood pressure below 120/80
- Maintain a fasting blood sugar level of less than 100mg/dL
- Meet 4 of the American Heart Association’s 5 “Key components for a healthy diet”:
- Eat more than 4-1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables per day
- Eat oily fish – salmon, trout, herring, etc – at least twice a week
- Eat sweets sparingly
- Have 3 or more servings of whole grains per day
- Eating fewer than 1500mg of sodium per day
Keep in mind that these are just suggestions, but they have been proven effective for others. You don’t have to eat oily fish (I won’t… I’m vegan) or visit the doctor every month for testing; the purpose or the American Heart Association’s food list is to guide you in the right direction.
If you choose to do nothing else, you should track your weight/BMI and your blood pressure. These numbers, along with nutrition and exercise, greatly affect the other numbers. Blood pressure, in particular, has proven to be the number one predictor of heart attack and stroke.
If your blood pressure is in the hypertensive range, you should set a goal of lowering it to the normal range. The same goes for cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight. Take control of your health! Decide what, if any, changes must be made to get your numbers into a healthy range for you. But your heart health goals are more likely to succeed if you tailor them to your individual lifestyle and schedule. Don’t have time to take care of your body with exercise and healthy eating? Make time! Your life depends on it. Literally. And not just in February, do it every day of every month. The time for self-care is always now, today. Never wait.
For more information blood pressure read and watch:
For more information on blood sugar/diabetes read or watch:
For more information on weight loss read and/or watch:
1 Laino, Charlene. “Few Americans Meet Goals for Heart Health”. WebMD, November 19, 2010. Web. February 2017
“Know Your Health Numbers”. American Heart Association, n.d. Web. February 2017