Getting Ahead: Healthy Heart Practices for the New Year

If you’re like a lot of people, you probably don’t think too much about the everyday health of your heart. It tends to be a part of your body people only give attention to in the event something goes wrong. But this isn’t the best plan—after all, your heart is one of your body’s most vital organs and it’s never too early (or too late!) to start taking care of your body’s most important muscle.

Keeping an eye on your heart health with proper check-ups and maintenance is a great New Year’s resolution to add to your list. Thankfully, your Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan PPO or Blue Care Network HMO plan includes a network of cost-effective care providers—licensed professionals who have the knowledge and tools to support a strong heart. Here’s how to get started:

Check In on Your Heart

According to the American Heart Association, there are a few key screening tests everyone should get to know how their heart is doing. These screenings include:

  • Blood pressure: Blood pressure tends to be tested whenever you go to the doctor, but if you are looking for an up-to-date reading between doctor visits, you can have it checked at a participating local retail health clinic near you.
  • Cholesterol: It is recommended you schedule a cholesterol screening test every five years, beginning at the age of 40 (you’ll need to do it more often if you have an elevated risk for heart disease and as you age). Ask your doctor about the schedule that’s best for you.
  • Body weight: You might dread the “step on the scale” moment during your annual check-up, but it’s a necessary evil as your weight has a direct impact on how much harder your heart has to work. It helps your primary care doctor understand whether you’re at a healthy body weight for your age, gender, race, height and health goals.
  • Blood glucose: Your blood glucose levels help determine your risk of developing various medical problems such as insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage your heart and put you at higher risk for developing heart disease as well. To know where your levels stand, you should get tested every three years beginning at the age of 45. During your appointment, ask your physician about blood glucose testing.

Maintain and Improve Your Heart Health

In addition to the screenings listed above, there are a handful of lifestyle changes you can make that will keep your heart going strong. Focus on these core areas:

  • Your diet: To combat high cholesterol, eat a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, plant-based fats and lean proteins. Avoid fried or salty foods, and use healthy fats in your cooking such as olive oil.
  • Your sleep: A good night’s sleep is important for your heart, as it allows your blood pressure and heart rate to go down. People who aren’t getting enough sleep usually have heart rates that stay high, which stresses the heart. Adults should shoot for at least seven hours of slumber a night to give your heart and arteries some rest.
  • Your exercise: Maintaining an active lifestyle and doing moderate to vigorous exercise is crucial as you age. In fact, 15 minutes of exercise a day can extend your lifespan by three years compared to if you were inactive. Cardiovascular fitness improves the way your body uses oxygen and increases blood flow to the brain and your entire body. Incorporate aerobic activity like brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, or interval training into your weekly routine.
  • Your habits: It’s no secret that drinking alcohol in excess and smoking are damaging to your overall health, but they are especially dangerous for your heart. Breaking these habits can reduce your risk of developing serious conditions such as heart disease.

Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to get a better gauge on your heart health. For other health consultations, find the best place for care at bcbsm.com/findcare.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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