Heart Health Primer

Featured Article, Healthy Heart, Healthy Living, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on January 4, 2011
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My mother struggled with heart problems in an era when treatment options were scarce-but even today heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Luckily, some of the best ways to boost your heart health are also among the easiest. Read on for more on that topic, and answers to other common heart questions.

Q: I know foods high in salt can increase my blood pressure, but what foods can help lower it?
A: You're right: The sodium in food encourages your body to retain fluid, which forces your heart to pump harder and raises blood pressure. To keep that from happening, aim to eat no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day (most people get double that), and watch out for hidden sources of salt, such as bread and cereal. And remember: Small changes can make a big difference in your health. Recent research found that cutting just 40mg of salt per day could prevent 30,000 cases of coronary heart disease in the U.S. by 2019. More good news: Potassium-rich foods like potatoes and sweet potatoes, yogurt and, yes, bananas may help lower your blood pressure by encouraging the kidneys to get rid of excess sodium. Aim for about 5,000 mg of potassium per day.

Q: Do heart attack symptoms differ for men and women?
A: Yes, although scientists and doctors aren't sure why. The most common pre-heart attack symptom for both men and women is still chest pain or jaw, arm or shoulder aches. Women also often have more general symptoms, like extreme fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness or sleep disturbances, while men are more likely to suffer from specifically right-sided chest pain and indigestion.

Q: How can I stop heart problems before they start?
A: It's probably no surprise that eating a diet full of fruits, veggies and whole grains and getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day will help keep your ticker in top form. But you may not know that getting adequate sleep is another essential part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. One recent study suggested that sleeping fewer than five hours per night could increase your risk of high blood pressure as much as five times. If you regularly have trouble sleeping or snore loudly and wake up tired, talk to your doctor

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