February 2021 marked the 57th year that the United States has celebrated American Heart Month. Trivia Point: President Lyndon Johnson, who had heart disease, proclaimed it as such and although significant strides have been made since 1964, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide.
It is never too early to prevent heart disease and keep your cardiovascular system (heart/blood vessels) as healthy as possible, so here are a couple of tips:
Don’t take up smoking and if you are already smoking, quit now.
Why does it matter?
In terms of cardiovascular disease, nicotine constricts (squeezes) blood vessels which diminishes circulation. So, by eliminating smoking you improve blood flow to your brain and heart and reduce your chances of stroke and heart attack. Smoking is also associated with clot formation, wall damage, cholesterol increase, and plaque formation in blood vessels, all of which can decrease blood flow to important organs.
- Know your blood pressure.
- What is it blood pressure, what is normal and why should I care?
Blood pressure (BP) is measured by millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg). There are always 2 numbers. The top number, systolic pressure, reflects the pressure in your vascular system when the heart beats and pumps blood throughout your body. The lower number, diastolic pressure, reflects the pressure in your vascular system when your heart is between beats, or “at rest”. (Trivia point = systole is derived from Greek, meaning to contract).
A “normal” pressure is considered less than 120/80 mm Hg (read as 120 over 80). BP varies throughout the day.
What is hypertension? Hypertension is high blood pressure, a medical diagnosis that is made when blood pressure is consistently elevated on at least 3 occasions. There are several stages: Elevated BP (120-129/80), Stage 1 (130-139/80-89), Stage 2 (>140/>90) and Hypertensive crisis (>180/>120).
Because people are usually unaware that their pressure is high, it should be checked routinely so elevations can be identified and treated appropriately. The goal is to control the pressure in order to avoid damage to vessels and organs (heart, brain, eyes, kidneys, etc.) that can occur over time. So, prevention is key and involves: monitoring, eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and more.
Want to know more?
Or better yet, ask us! At University Health Services, we are happy to answer questions. I can be reached Mon-Fri 8-4:30 at (207) 780-5411 or by email: [email protected].