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How healthy is your heart?


Your heart is one of the hardest working parts of your body. It’s also one of the most threatened. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. – about one in four deaths. Additionally, in the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. And about one in five of those heart attacks is silent – meaning you may not be aware of damage to your heart that is happening or has already taken place.

That is why it is so important to stay on top of our heart health. Do you know how healthy your heart is? This American Heart Month, refresh yourself on a few key indicators that can give insight into your heart’s current health state and point to any specific steps you may need to take for its care.

Cholesterol is a substance that circulates in your blood and comes in two different types – LDL (also known as the “bad” kind) and HDL (known as the “good” kind). HDL cholesterol transports the LDL cholesterol from your arteries to the liver, where it is flushed from your body. Too much of the LDL or not enough of the HDL increases your risk for build-up and blockage in your arteries, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke. Knowing your cholesterol numbers is one of the key ways to assess your heart health and one of the most manageable factors in terms of lowering your risk for disease. Targets for healthy cholesterol levels can vary based on age and gender but a general rule of thumb for adults is to aim for 125-200 mg/dL.

Blood pressure is just what it says – it measures the pressure or force of blood within your arteries. Like cholesterol, there are two different numbers – your systolic pressure (the higher of the two numbers) measures your blood pressure when your heart beats and your diastolic pressure (the lower of the two numbers) measures your blood’s pressure when your heart is resting between beats. A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. Readings above these levels would be considered elevated or high, including hypertension when readings are 130/80 or above. High blood pressure can be a significant contributor to and sign of serious heart issues. Unfortunately, it is an all-too-common condition, affecting nearly half of American adults according to the American Heart Association, and presenting no symptoms the majority of the time. Because there are often no clear-cut symptoms, it’s important to get your blood pressure checked. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be lowered and managed with the proper care.

Waist size can also be a harbinger for heart health and a predictor of heart problems. A study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute showed that men with a waist size larger than 40 inches and women with a waist size greater than 35 inches are at higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The good news is that healthy eating and physical activity can help you lower and maintain a healthy waist size and stay on the road to good heart health.

Risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure can also run in your family, so knowing your family’s heart health history can help you stay alert to your own health risks. And while these aren’t the only markers on the map to good heart health, they are key factors in determining how healthy your heart is and your risk for heart issues now or down the road. Your primary care provider can check these numbers for you – including during your annual check-up – and work with you on a plan to make any changes necessary to get you back on track, whether it’s simple lifestyle changes or medication if necessary.

How healthy is your heart? Know your numbers so you can know how to stay on the road to good heart health.

You can take MMC’s free heart health assessment at mmclc.org. Also visit heart.org.