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"A blood pressure exam wasn't exactly on my shopping list that day, but when I saw AAHP giving free screenings at my local supermarket, I lined up for an exam. It was quick and painless-and surprising. A follow-up appointment indicated that I was at risk for cardiovascular disease. Armed with information and support from the AAHP, I took action to quit smoking, improve my diet, and get more exercise. Today, my numbers-and my life-are headed in the right direction."

Prevention Strategies

The following best practices are recommended by the American Heart Association.

  1. Get Active. Start small by incorporating physical activity into your daily routine more and more: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the farthest end of the parking lot or use your lunch break to take a quick walk. When you're ready, aim for 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity each week. Up for a more intense workout? You'll get the same heart-pumping benefits with 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Along with gaining strength and stamina, exercising regularly can lower blood pressure, keep body weight under control and increase your HDL — otherwise known as "good" cholesterol. Exercise also better regulates blood sugar by improving how the body uses insulin. You'll help prevent bone loss, sleep better and reduce your risk of cancer.
  2. Control Cholesterol. We all have cholesterol, a waxy substance in the bloodstream and in the cells of our body. But despite its reputation, cholesterol it isn't all bad. In fact, it plays an important role in keeping us healthy. But a balance must be struck to prevent too much cholesterol in the blood. There are two types: the "good" kind (HDL) and the "bad" kind (LDL). High levels of bad cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. This is where good cholesterol comes into play: HDL cleans out that bad cholesterol from the arteries. You can produce more of those housekeeping HDLs by exercising regularly and limiting saturated fat, and cholesterol by avoiding too many animal products such as red meats and full-fat dairy, and including healthier fats such as certain vegetable oils. It's also important to limit trans fats, too. For some people, diet and lifestyle changes alone aren't enough. Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
  3. Eat Better. Eating the right foods can help you control your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. What's a heart-smart diet? Looking for foods stamped with the American Heart Association's Heart-Check mark is one sure way to know you're choosing a food low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Here are some other recommendations to eating healthy:
    - at least 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day
    - fish at least twice a week
    - fiber-rich whole grains every day
    - less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day
    - no more than 450 calories a week of sugar-sweetened beverages (based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
  4. Manage Blood Pressure. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range starts with eating a heart-healthy diet. Other important factors are exercising regularly; not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight; limiting salt and alcohol; and taking medication prescribed by your doctor.
  5. Lose Weight. Extra weight can do serious damage to your heart. Too much fat, especially around the belly, increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. So give your heart a break by dropping the extra pounds — and keeping them off. Every little bit helps. Losing as few as 10 pounds decreases your heart disease risk. The trick is to increase your aerobic physical activity each week while reducing the calories you take in, to a point where you can achieve energy balance and a healthy weight.
  6. Reduce Blood Sugar. Diabetes can quadruple your risk of heart disease or stroke, so keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial to preventing medical problems involving the heart and kidneys. If left untreated, diabetes can also cause blindness and nerve disease, among other health complications. You can minimize the impact of diabetes on your body — and even prevent or delay the onset of diabetes — by eating right, controlling your weight, exercising and taking medication prescribed your doctor.
  7. Stop Smoking. It's time to kick the habit. With one in five deaths caused by smoking, going smoke-free can help prevent not only heart disease and stroke, but also cancer and chronic lung disease. The payoff is almost immediate. Quit smoking and you'll have the same risk level for developing heart disease as non-smokers within only a few years.
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