Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the United States. More than 600,000 Americans die from heart disease every year. Current and former Military Service Members are at greater risk for heart disease and heart attack than the civilian population as well. Risk factors are both genetic—including your sex, family history, and race or ethnicity—and lifestyle-based, including smoking, diet, exercise, and sleep habits. While you can’t change your genetics, the choices you make as part of living a healthy lifestyle keep can keep your heart healthy.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? First, know your risk factors. Some things you can’t change, such as your family history, sex, and age. But knowing your family history when you see your doctor can help inform preventative care or other treatments you might receive.
You can address your lifestyle-based risk factors for heart disease in several ways:
- Stay active. Regular exercise can help you manage many risk factors, such as your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Work at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity into your weekly schedule. You can even stay active at work.
- Make healthy food choices. Aim for a diet made up of colorful vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. DoD’s Go for Green (G4G) initiative and USMC’s Fueled to Fight programs can help you identify these choices when you’re eating on base. The HHS Dietary Guidelines offer current recommendations on eating right when you’re cooking on your own. Or try a few heart-healthy recipes from HPRC or recipes from the National Library of Medicine.
- Get enough sleep. Adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are more likely to have health problems, including high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. (Nearly 50% of those who have served in the military report not getting enough sleep, compared to 36% for civilians.)
- Learn to manage your stress. Too much stress can affect other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure. (“Managing” stress by drinking too much alcohol or smoking, also put you at higher risk for heart attack and heart disease.) Learn more about how to make stress your ally.
In celebration of American Heart Month, focus on your lifestyle habits and keep your heart fit, strong, and healthy!