Love Your Heart and It Will Love You Back

By: Katie Richard, MA, BSN, RN, Director of Sports & Wellness

Keeping our hearts healthy starts with us. Showing our hearts some love with healthy lifestyles typically keeps our bodies operating at optimal levels.

However, the health outlook for this organ seems to be spiraling downward. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites cardiovascular diseasae as the leading cause of death in Louisiana and throughout the country.

Heart disease wasn't always a major killer in the US. But after World War II, Americans began smoking more, sitting more and developing unhealthy eating habits.

A focus on heart health resulted in heart disease rates falling 69% between 1950 and 2009. Now trends are heading the wrong way. Since 2010, more adults ages 45 to 64 are dying of heart disease. A record number of older adults are also dying. According to the American Heart Association, 77.5% of men and 75.4% of women ages 60 to 70 suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Many factors increase risks for heart disease. Some, such as family history, are out of our control. However, we can control certain risks. Basic keys to prevention include healthy foods and drinks, healthy weight, regular physical activity, no smoking and monitoring medical conditions.

  1. Choosing healthy foods and drinks.

Heart healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts and whole grains. The American Heart Association ranks the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet at the top of its lifestyle dietary list. Designed to treat or prevent hypertension, which contributes to heart disease, it is low in salt, added sugar, alcohol and processed foods and high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

The Mediterranean diet, based on the eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, also ranks high. It consists mostly of plant-based foods and includes "good fats" such as walnuts, almonds, avocados and olive oil.

Avoid sodas and other sugary drinks, and sip water throughout the day. While recommended amounts depend on various factors, as a general rule, women should drink 8, 8-ounce glasses and men 12, 8-ounce glasses daily.

Too much alcohol can directly impact the heart. While the World Health Organization says that no alcohol is the safest amount, general recommendations are one drink a day for women and two for men.

2. Maintaining healthy weight.

Obesity ranks high among risk factors for heart disease. Carrying extra weight, especially around the waist, adds extra stress on the heart. Being overweight can increase cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure—all unhealthy risk factors.

Maintaining a heart-healthy weight depends on food choices and exercise. A balance of both can help keep the heart beating at a healthy rate. With an early Mardi Gras this year, February 14 is the perfect time to start a weight loss plan.

3. Keep moving.

Lack of physical activity is linked to increased risks for heart disease and heart attacks, as well as cognitive decline and frailty. So get up and get moving. Any amount of movement that raises the heart rate for 15 minutes or more benefits the body.

The CDC recomends 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly and twice-weekly strength training. Activities aren't limited to gym workouts, running or cycling. Gardening, walking the dog and even housecleaning can raise heart rates.

4. Stop smoking.

Smoking—whether cigarettes, cigars or vapes—damages blood vessels and causes plaque buildup, which can lead to adverse heart conditions.

To keep the heart healthy, don't smoke. However, stopping a longtime habit can be challenging. Talk with a healthcare provider about ways to safely break the habit.

5. Monitoring medical conditions.

To keep our hearts healthy, schedule regular healthcare visits to prevent issues and monitor existing conditions. That includes dental checkups, as gum disease is often linked to heart disease.

In the event you need heart care, you can put your trust in Thibodaux Regional, named #1 hospital in Louisiana in 2023 for heart care by CareChex for providing the highest quality, safest care. Learn more about our heart services here: or for resources for improving lifestyle health contact Thibodaux Regional Wellness Education Center, 985.493.4765.