501st CSW medical experts provide their top 5 heart healthy tips

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Alexis McGee
  • 501st CSW Public Affairs
In honor of American Heart Month, medical experts from around the 501st Combat Support Wing provided their top five tips on how to maintain a healthy heart.

1.) Eat a healthy diet
Lowering your sodium intake can decrease your risk for high blood pressure, which is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke. Most Americans adults are consuming more than 1,000 mg of sodium per day than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends.

"According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet and lifestyle are a person's best weapons in the fight against heart disease," said Lt. Col. Alison Helmkamp, Chief of Medical Staff for the 501st CSW.  "First, people should know how many calories they should be eating and drinking (the AHA website has a calculator for that). They recommend eating a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and poultry, fish and nuts for protein sources. Red meat and sugary foods and beverages should be limited. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation (1-2 drinks a day max); this is a source of "empty" calories (really low on any beneficial nutrients). Avoid foods high in trans fats, and use as little salt as possible when cooking."

2.) Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. Doctors typically use the body mass index to determine whether their patients' weight is within a healthy range.

"BMI is a number calculated from a person's height and weight; it correlates to body fat content, and provides a fairly good assessment of overweight for most people," said Helmkamp. "Adults should strive to keep their BMI between 18 and 25. Individuals with very muscular bodies may have an artificially elevated BMI on these tables and should research other ways to measure BMI. Many websites offer BMI calculators (such as the CDC and the AHA) and more information on what BMI means. Overweight (BMI 25-30) and obesity (BMI > 30) contribute to the risk of: high blood pressure; diabetes; high cholesterol; coronary heart disease; strokes; gallbladder disease; arthritis; sleep apnea; and some cancers (uterine, breast, and colon, particularly)."

3.) Exercise regularly
Adults should aim for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, or 2 hours and 30 minutes per week divided however it best fits their schedules. This means people can choose to exercise twice per day for about twelve minutes, or an hour and 15 minutes twice a week.

"Exercise helps heart health in several ways," said Helmkamp. "First, most individuals who exercise regularly are able to maintain a healthy weight. Note that exercise has been shown to be beneficial regardless of weight changes!  Exercising moderately for 40 minutes 3-4 times a week has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and is beneficial for those with diabetes. Mood, sleep habits, and overall energy levels are affected positively by exercise, as well. Exercise need not interfere with family time - including your partner and kids in regular activities like walking/running, cycling, or just kicking around a soccer ball, can allow for fun family time and set a great example for your kids on how to incorporate exercise into their daily routines."

4.) Don't smoke
Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk for heart disease. Doctors recommend a variety of ways to help current smokers kick the habit. For those who don't smoke, don't start!

"Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer," said Maj. Jason Nafts, 423rd Medical Squadron Medical Operations Flight Commander and senior nurse. "Passive smoke, or secondhand smoke, remains in the air for up to two and a half hours even with the windows open. Even when smoking outside, the tar nicotine and carbon monoxide can get into your clothing and hair. People can also continue to exhale these poisons several minutes after stopping, which is particularly harmful to children. Children and babies who breathe in passive smoke have an increased risk for developing Asthma, middle ear infections, coughs, colds and babies are twice as likely to have Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than babies not exposed to secondhand smoke. As the child grows up in a family that smokes, they are three times as likely to start smoking. Smoking in all forms increases your risk of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke."

5.) Lower your stress
Long-term stress causes an increased heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls.

"A good tip to combat stress is finding positive ways to decompress after stressful days, said Rachael Groft, 422nd and 423rd ABG health promotion coordinator. "While everyone is different, here are a few ideas that may help you relax:
Walk it out - from taking a walk to hitting the gym, exercise is a great way to relieve stressful tension
Talk it out - a chat or phone call with friends/family can provide a much needed outlet to unwind
Time out - take a 5-minute relaxation break; simply find a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on deep breathing."