Take Control of Your Heart Health Today

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart with marker on whiteboard concept for healthcare and medicine

I was so saddened to hear the news of James Gandolfini’s death. My condolences and thoughts go out to his family at this time.

Heart attacks are the number one cause of death. As a heart surgeon, I know that those at risk can take control of their health and turn the tide for a better and longer life. It’s never too early to educate yourself on the potential risk factors you may have for heart disease. Take this moment to reflect on your own health and visit your doctor with any concerns. There is plenty you can do to make sure your heart stays healthy.

First, know your numbers. Every adult American should know their blood pressure, their waist measurement, their weight, their cholesterol and their fasting blood sugar. These five numbers can offer clues and alerts to the state of your health.

Blood pressure: Your blood pressure can indicate if you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, a stroke or kidney disease. Measure your blood pressure once a month by taking a reading three times and averaging the numbers. Be particularly aware of the top number – the systolic pressure, which indicates the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood – the best lifelong measurement for hypertension. A systolic reading above 140 is considered too high and warrants seeing your doctor.

Waist size: Your waist size will help you know more than what to look for when shopping for clothes. Knowing your body’s measurements can help save your life. Take a measuring tape and measure your waist at the belly button once a month. The number should be less than half of your height. If it is more, it puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease among a host of other health concerns.

Weight: Weigh yourself once a month and make a commitment to keep checking that number for losses and gains. The average American woman stands approximately 5’4” tall. At this height, you should weigh less than 175 pounds, the cut off point for obesity. The average American man is about 5’9” tall and should weigh less than 196, his cut off for obesity. Taller folks can add 5 pounds per inch; if you’re shorter, subtract 5 pounds per inch.

Cholesterol: Have your doctor test your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. There are two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL, and both numbers are important. Your HDL, the healthy cholesterol, needs to be 50 or better; your LDL, the unhealthy cholesterol, should be under 100.

Blood sugar: Your fasting blood sugar number can tell you a lot about your health. This measures your risk for diabetes which can lead to many health problems, including heart disease. You must measure this number after an 8-hour fast, so it’s best to do it first thing in the morning, before you’ve had breakfast or coffee. Your FBS can be determined with a simple blood test or a finger stick test. An FBS number above 100 is considered prediabetic and you should consult with a physician.

Know the symptoms of a heart attack and your family history. Use this printable symptom checklist and carry it with you in your wallet. Women may have more subtle symptoms than men, so be sure to educate yourself on what they are so you can know what to do in an emergency.

Remember, that it is never too early to make changes in order to improve your heart health. Knowing your own risk factors is the first step in improving your health. You are the owner of your body, so it’s important to know what parts need the most maintenance!