Heart-healthy plan includes knowing your numbers

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Heart disease is the number one killer in America.  About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year.  So, the month of February is dedicated to raising awareness and teaching us how to decrease our risk.

Dr. Dermot Phelan, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, says the first step to developing a heart-healthy plan is a good diet.

"Things that we want to try to reduce and cut out are sodium, you want to reduce that as much as possible, trans-saturated fats, red meat. Occasional red meat is fine, but not on a regular basis," he said.

Phelan says to focus on a Mediterranean-type diet filled with lots of fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish. 

He also says it's important to exercise, too. Your heart is a muscle, so it must be strengthened.  Phelan says walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is a good place to start.

And if you're putting together a heart-healthy plan, you must know your numbers.

"So, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars," said Phelan. "They're the kind of main numbers that we look at and these are ones that you have to depend on your doctor to give you guidance, in terms of what are the ideal numbers for you?"

Phelan calls these modifiable risk factors. If you're eating right and exercising you should be able to keep these numbers under control and reduce your risk for heart disease. But one of the best things you can do for your heart is not smoke.

"Smokers have a 2 to 4 time higher risk of developing heart disease. We all know what happens to the lungs, but sometimes people don't appreciate that that will also increase your risk of having a heart attack," he warned.

Phelan says you can polish off your heart-healthy plan by looking at your family history for heart disease. If it runs in your family, you should take note and talk to your doctor.

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