Building a Healthy Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. An estimated 630,000 Americans die of heart disease each year. Heart health is something that adults of all ages should be concerned with. Here are some key areas you can focus on now to start living a heart-healthy life.

Know your blood pressure

Did you know that starting at age 18 you should regularly get your blood pressure checked? Blood pressure is an excellent indicator of your health, and keeping it low can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, has no symptoms, so a person can have it for years without being aware of it. About one in three Americans suffer from high blood pressure.

A normal blood pressure reading is lower than 120/80 mm/Hg (millimeters over Mercury). When looking at a blood pressure reading, the first number, or the higher one, is the systolic, which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, or the lower one, is the diastolic, which measures the pressure in the arteries between the heartbeats.

Get a cholesterol screening

The American Heart Association agrees with recommendations that all adults age 20 or older should have a fasting lipoprotein profile once every five years. High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Higher blood cholesterol levels directly increase your risk of coronary heart disease.

The test is a blood draw that measures total cholesterol, LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides. It is done after a nine- to 12-hour fast without food, liquids or pills. Your doctor, who is familiar with your medical history, is the best choice to d a cholesterol screening, and can explain your results in more detail. Here is a brief overview of what the ideal levels look like for a cholesterol screen:

Total blood cholesterol - less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood)
LDL (bad) cholesterol - less than 129 mg/dL
HDL (good) cholesterol - 60 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides - less than 150 mg/dL
Triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body. Many people who have heart disease or diabetes have elevated levels of triglycerides.

Get active and monitor your heart rate

Exercise is a vital part of keeping your heart healthy, and you can maximize your workouts by keeping track of your heart rate. The American Heart Association recommends approximately 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week. Activity can be broken up throughout the week in 10 minute segments.

You can gauge if you are at the right level of intensity while working out. If you can exchange brief sentences easily while performing the activity, but not a comfortable or long conversation, your level is likely on target. If it is easy to carry on a full conversation, then you aren't working hard enough, and if short sentences feel like a strain, and you are quickly out of breath, then you are most likely working out too hard.

If you want to figure out your optimal target training heart rate, you need to know your resting heart rate. The best time is in the morning after a good night's sleep and before you get out of bed. The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute. Target heart rate lets you measure your fitness level and monitor your progress. You want to stay within 50 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate as you exercise.

For more information on how to live heart healthy, visit the American Heart Association online at The site offers lots of useful information about blood pressure, cholesterol, exercise and heart rate, and heart disease. Download a handy, wallet-size card that you can keep track of your blood pressure readings. The American Heart Association offers one here.

Want an app for that? You can download a smart phone application to measure your heart rate. Visit to check out Azumo's heart rate app. There is a free version and a pro version for $0.99.

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