Listen to your heart, lower your risk |

Listen to your heart, lower your risk

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S

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Written by By Lauren Glendenning, Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente

Heart-shaped chocolates and romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day might prevent heartbreak, but physical activity and a healthy diet are two of the most important factors in preventing hearts from breaking down.

Sixty nine percent of all adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. Varying data puts the U.S. obesity rate at about 33 to 35 percent, with Colorado clocking in at about 20 percent, the lowest in the nation.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and the risk factors don’t stop at obesity. Other risks include smoking, diabetes, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, lack of physical activity and poor diet, said Dr. Jeannine Benson, Internal Medicine & Primary Care Chief at Kaiser Permanente Edwards Medical Offices. “We use these risk factors to evaluate a person’s total cardiac risk,” Benson said. “Anyone who can identify these risks in themselves should meet with their primary care physician to discuss their personal overall risk.  This can direct medication management and other preventative factors.”

Because the first symptom of heart disease is often a heart attack or stroke, it’s important to talk to a primary care provider about risk factors, she said. If someone is experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue or unusual swelling in the feet, they should seek immediate medical care.

For preventative care, patients should see their doctors for tests that check blood pressure, weight and other lifestyle risk factors such as smoking and drinking.

“Cholesterol and diabetes screening should also be talked about. These tests may not be needed every year or may need to be done several times a year — this all depends on the individual’s risk factors and possible medications they may be on,” Benson said.

Move your body

Anyone who’s not getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous activity 3 to 4 days a week along with at least 2 days of moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity, isn’t getting enough exercise, according to the American Heart Association.

“Keep in mind that the activity does not have to be done in a continuous period of time. Breaking it up can really help get that activity in,” Benson said. “It is important to make this a conscious goal to get this activity in as often as we can.”

Any cardio exercise that gets a person motivated is good to do, she added. But if someone has significant health problems, she said it’s always a good idea to talk to a primary care physician first about exercise recommendations or limitations.

People need to use their physicians as their partners in health, Benson said.

“Especially if someone has chronic diseases that need to be managed.”


A heart-healthy diet includes:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils
  • Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages

* Source: The American Heart Association

How much exercise is enough?

The American Heart Association offers the following guidelines on heart-healthy exercise:

  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity).
  • Thirty minutes a day, five times a week, is an easy goal to remember.
  • You can also get cardio benefits from breaking up your workouts into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.
  • For those with high cholesterol or blood pressure, the recommendation is 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio exercise three to four times per week.
  • Something is always better than nothing. Work toward the above goals over time if you can’t do them right away.
  • A simple way to improve heart health is to start walking regularly.

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