If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, have had a stroke or have risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, I encourage you to think about taking charge of your beautiful heart. Here are 10 easy pieces of advice, from my heart to yours.
These days we think of cardiovascular conditions as common, and they are. But, they need to be taken seriously to prevent injury to your own heart.
Start taking charge of your beautiful heart by making your health a priority.
This is an essential first step to a healthier heart—both now and in the future.
- The more you know about your condition and how to manage it, the better you’ll feel and the lower the risk of complications related to your condition.
Learn how to wade through the volume of articles you read and the information and advice of your physicians
You may be bombarded with rapid-fire data in these days of shorter office visits and everyone calling themselves an expert, without the credentials to back it up.
- Be prepared and willing to ask your doctor to repeat or explain anything unclear to you.
Learn to navigate sites such as CardioSmart.Org run by the American College Of Cardiology, and keep learning.
- Each area provides medical information, the latest research, suggestions on what questions to ask your physician and very solid, helpful advice.
If you’re committed to taking charge of your beautiful heart, you’ll be willing to:
Playing an active role in your own health will help you feel in control and responsible for yourself. Get involved from the start.
Lay out your specific goals and what you’ll do to meet them. For example:
➡ If you have heart failure, weighing yourself daily and tracking your weight will provide a valuable record for your health care team.
➡ Keeping track will alert you to call for an appointment if you’ve gained weight too fast (more than 2-3 pounds in 24 hrs or 5 pounds in a week).
- A sudden or steady gain in daily weight (for example, 2 to 3 pounds in 24 hours or 5 pounds or more in 1 week) shows that the body is retaining fluid.
- You may notice swelling of your feet and ankles.
These are signs that fluids are building up in your body because your heart failure is getting worse.
3. Keep all medical appointments.
Even if you feel better or have other demands on your time (work, family, etc.), you need to make these visits a priority.
4. Follow your treatment plan.
No matter your condition or treatment, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice. It’s the only way to know if that specific treatment or management strategy is working or if changes are needed.
5. Take your medications exactly as directed.
Many people living with heart disease take medications to prevent other complications, such as those to control your blood pressure or cholesterol.
In order for them to work as they’re designed, however, you must take them correctly, “as prescribed.”
- Make the time or take the time. You’ll feel better about taking the medication(s) if you know why you need it and how it can help.
- Ask your doctor or registered pharmacist about the potential side effects of each medication, and how best to manage them.
- NEVER stop, skip or change the amount (dose) of medication you take without first discussing it with your doctor.
- Keep a current list of all medications you take, including any over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements. Share this list with your physician at each visit.
Too much medicine—or not enough can be equally as dangerous. And, certain medications combined with some supplements can be harmful.
There’s no better way of taking the first step toward taking charge of your beautiful heart than for you to:
6. Lead a healthier life.
Many people have told me that it was the wake-up call they needed to make positive changes to the way they approached all areas of their life.
➡ Be physically active.
- Discuss the possibility of engaging in a regular exercise program appropriate for your condition and fitness level, with your doctor.
Don’t forget that even activities like gardening, riding a bike or cleaning the house count
➡ Eat well. Make smart, heart-healthy food choices.
- That means eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and cutting down on saturated, trans and other types of fats.
➡ Don’t smoke or drink alcohol to excess.
- It’s recommended that women should have no more than half a drink per day and men should have no more than one drink per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
7. Know what increases your probability of developing problems.
- Make sure you’re aware of your risk factors—those things that make it more likely for you to have heart disease, stroke or repeat cardiac events.
8. Relax. (or do your best to do it).
- Prolonged stress and anxiety can affect your body and your heart.
Take care of yourself and try to lower your stress levels by setting limits, getting a massage, signing up for a yoga class, meditating or engaging in other activities that help you to relax.
9. Ask for help.
- Joining a support group, talking openly with family and friends or keeping a journal can help you cope.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if needed. Consider bringing a family member or trusted friend to your doctor visits, especially if you have a complicated condition.
10. Take heart.
Remember that you’re not alone.
- In fact, one out of every three American adults will have some type of cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that we have made major advances in treatments, and your options are better than ever before.
And, you have at your disposal, a much greater awareness of prevention, support, and resources to guide you on your journey to better management of your condition.