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How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

February 14, 2018

In honor of Heart Health Month, Dr. Paul Thomas shares ways to keep your heart in its best shape.

By Dr. Paul Thomas, MD of Plum Health DPC

Written with medical student Christopher Kelly

February is Heart Health Month, so we’re talking about how you can keep your heart healthy for life. The biggest risk factor for heart disease in America is high blood pressure. But, high blood pressure can occur without symptoms, and it can be difficult to manage.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 1 in 2 American adults have high blood pressure. Roughly 50 percent of Americans have high blood pressure now because the cut-off point for the diagnosis was recently lowered from 140/90 mmHg to 130/80 mmHg.

If you’re not regularly monitoring your health, you won’t notice a problem until your pressure reaches life-threatening levels or you have an adverse outcome. Until that bad end point is reached, your heart is working overtime. This extra stress on the heart can lead to heart disease or stroke — the first and third leading causes of death in America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of those with untreated high blood pressure, 33 percent are not aware that they have it, and 20 percent are aware but not receiving treatment. If you are among this 53 percent, I would implore you to see your primary care physician and start making the most of your health and wellness. It’s never too late to start doing the right thing for yourself.

Remember, 50 percent of American adults have high blood pressure. If you live in Michigan, that percentage may be even higher. As a state, we’re lagging behind the national average for heart health, with about 16 percent more deaths from cardiovascular disease than the rest of the country, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services 2015 update.

This is why it’s so important to have regular check-ups with your family doctor. Each time you visit, you should have your blood pressure checked to make sure that you’re not at an increased risk for heart attacks or strokes.

If you are at risk for heart disease, now is the time to take action. Under the supervision of your doctor, most adults can benefit by working on the following key areas.

  1. Improve your diet. We can all benefit from more fruits and veggies in our daily intake, less red meat and less processed foods. But, did you know that there’s a diet specifically for those with high blood pressure? It’s called the DASH diet or The Mayo Clinic has an excellent article about this evidenced-based diet.
  1. Exercise daily. Daily exercise is crucial to a healthy heart and a lower blood pressure. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of Detroiters are meeting the CDC guidelines of at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic and strength activity a week. I repeat, only 20 percent or 1 in 5 Detroiters are meeting these guidelines!

Clearly, we have a long way to go if we want to be healthier as individuals and healthier as a community. So, how do we get there?

Make your health a priority. Literally, perform healthy activities in the first part of your day, meaning, exercise when you rise in the morning. Keep your gym clothes on your bedpost, wake up 30 minutes before your usual waking time and work in that 30 minutes of healthy activity each day.

The CDC recommends 30 minutes of brisk walking five days each week and this is a great place to start.

Pair this with healthier food options, and you will be building the foundational habits that will lead you to a healthier heart and a healthier life.

Dr. Paul Thomas is a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in Southwest Detroit. His practice is called Plum Health DPC, a Direct Primary Care service that is the first of its kind in Detroit and Wayne County. His mission is to deliver affordable, accessible health care services in Detroit and beyond. He has been a speaker at TEDxDetroit and is a graduate of Wayne State University School of Medicine. You can find out more at plumhealthdpc.com

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