Seven Simple Habits to Heart Health

The heart does a lot for the body, so why not take some time to take care of it? The American Heart Association shares seven easy ways to improve your heart health. Make these simple tips part of your everyday routine and you'll be on your way to a heart-healthy life.

1)  Get Active
Exercising is a great way to get in shape and keep your body and heart at its best. "Lowering your risk of heart disease isn't the only advantage exercise offers," says cardiologist Dr. Don Alexander, medical director for Palmetto Health Heart Hospital's Cardiac Rehabilitation Department. "Adding just a little exercise to your daily routine reduces the risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, certain cancers, depression, anxiety and stress. It can enhance your overall wellbeing."

Here are a few easy ways make exercise part of your daily routine.

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk instead of driving while doing errands.
  • Take a 15-minute "walk break" from work to help your heart and relieve stress.
  • Find a friend to exercise with you. It builds morale and provides an incentive on the days you don't want to exercise.
  • Set goals and reward yourself for reaching them. Set new goals every few weeks.

Join Palmetto Health's free walking program to receive a pedometer and incentives for reaching goals. To register, visit or call 803-296-2273.

2) Quit Smoking
Both smoking and frequent exposure to tobacco smoke not only increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, but also puts you at risk for a number of other health-related problems. If you smoke, your risk of heart attack is more than twice that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking also is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death.

Need help dropping the bad habit? Take part in Palmetto Health's free smoking cessation class. For more information, call 803-296-2273.

3) Eat Better
Making healthier food choices can help you look and feel better, maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, and lower your chances of developing certain diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Changing your diet won't happen overnight. Start by limiting your sugar and salt intake, aim for smaller meal portions, watch your daily calories, avoid highly processed foods, and add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet.

4) Lose Weight
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of sustaining good overall health. Excess weight puts you at an increased risk of developing serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and certain cancers. Your physician can help develop a safe, effective weight control plan using a combination of diet and exercise appropriate for your height, age and body structure.

Mary Sheehy, Adult Nurse Practitioner with HealthWorks at Palmetto Health, says, "Don't forget to count the calories you drink! Sweet tea and other sugared drinks, such as soda are called 'empty calories'. This is because they have little or no nutritional value. It is very easy to drink hundreds of calories a day.

Drink more water which has no calories and is necessary for life."  Ava Dean with Healthy Palmetto adds, "Losing weight needs to be a lifestyle change, not just a moment.  Your focus should be on what you need to do to live a healthier life versus what you can and can't have to eat.  Choose healthier foods like fruits and vegetables and clean out your pantry so that chips and cookies are not staring you in the face.  Change your mindset and keep moving forward."

If you or a loved one is considering bariatric surgery, attend one of Palmetto Health's bariatric seminars. For more information, call 803-806-3553.

5) Reduce Blood Sugar
Having high blood sugar can eventually lead to diabetes as well as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and circulation problems. That is why it's important to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. If your fasting blood sugar is 100 – 125 mg/dL, you are said to have pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes means you are at higher risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the country and currently affects over 27 million Americans. This means that millions of Americans are at risk of having strokes, heart attacks, dementia, and premature death because of a disease that could have been prevented.

Palmetto Health offers free pre-diabetes classes that will provide an overview on nutrition, physical activity, ways to prevent diabetes and additional resources. For more information, call 803-296-2273.

6) Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. The risk of a heart attack increases if you have high blood pressure and other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol or diabetes.

Set the goal of maintaining a blood pressure level lower than 140 over 90. Lower blood pressure is advised if you have known heart, vascular or kidney disease. Once blood pressure is under control, regular evaluations are recommended every three to six months.

7) Control Cholesterol
As blood cholesterol levels increase, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. Pair this with high blood pressure or smoking, and your risk increases much more. Some people, for genetic reasons, are at a higher risk for arterial disease due to their cholesterol. To find out what's best for you, have your cholesterol checked and talk about the results with your doctor. Cholesterol can be managed through diet, exercise and/or medication.


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