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Keeping your heart healthy

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. It works around the clock, pumping blood and oxygen to all of your organs.

When your heart doesn’t get the care it needs, a lot of problems can develop. The main one is the formation of plaque, which leads to heart attacks and blockage of blood flow in the arteries.

What can a person do to keep their heart in the best shape possible?

  • Know your cholesterol levels. There are two types: HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the good cholesterol, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), the bad cholesterol. HDL can remove the plaque that is formed by the LDL. To know what your levels are, you need to get blood tests done. For those over the age of 20 and no heart disease, your levels should be checked every 4-6 years. Get it checked more often if you’re at risk for heart disease, have high cholesterol or have been on medications that treat high cholesterol.
  • How does one keep cholesterol in check? Eat healthy, with meals consisting mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts while limiting red meat and sugar foods and drinks. Aim for 30 minutes of heart pumping activity most days of the week. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Monitor your blood pressure. Without treatment, that can damage your arteries, heart, kidneys and other organs. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, vision and memory loss, fluid in the lungs, chest pain, circulatory problems and several other conditions.
  • High blood pressure does not have any symptoms, so a blood pressure test is the only way to know.
  • Eating healthy, being active, watching your weight, managing stress, avoiding smoking, following medication directions, limiting alcohol intake, eating less sodium and being careful with medications are some of the ways to manage high blood pressure.

It is also recommended you go for regular checkups. At least once a year, get a physical to make sure you have not developed any conditions that would put you at risk for heart disease and make sure you are controlling any conditions you already have.

Manage your diabetes, keep tabs on blood pressure and cholesterol levels and do not skip medications, even if you have unpleasant side effects.

There are also supplements that can improve heart health, including no more than 3 grams of Omega-3 fatty acid per day, which is found in fish, and a low dose aspirin daily.