February is American Heart Health Month, so you’re probably about to hear a lot of advice like “eat more vegetables” and “get more exercise.” But you know this, right? We all do. So to help you learn something new (and get you on the best path to lower your risk of heart disease), we compiled some of the best new research and findings on cardiovascular health from the past year.
Check out our top five facts about heart disease and heart health that you probably don’t already know. (But don’t stop exercising and eating your fruits and vegetables; that’s still important!)
1. BMI shouldn’t be your primary gauge of heart health risk.
Over the past year, multiple studies and expert opinions have affirmed that Body Mass Index (BMI) is a poor health measure, isn’t a great gauge of obesity, and can even contribute to poor body image and body dysmorphia. But a high BMI is still commonly associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and risk of heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can let yourself off the hook if you’re living a healthy lifestyle, but BMI charts classify you as overweight. The bad news is that you can still have a high risk of heart disease if you’re considered average or underweight. The best way to learn about your risk is to head to our doctor and discuss your family history, health tests, and lifestyle factors–none of which compute on a BMI chart.
2. Heart function is linked to brain function.
If, for some reason, the prospect of having a heart attack doesn’t scare you into cleaning up your diet and getting more exercise, consider the fact that clogged arteries can lead to cognitive decline that can be a precursor to dementia. Just as constricted blood flow can lead to cardiovascular arrest, it can cause nerve cell death, mild cognitive impairment, stroke and dementia when it prevents enough oxygen from getting to the brain. That’s scary stuff, and it’s impossible to reverse brain damage with emergency surgery.
3. A vegetarian diet is very good for your heart. No, really.
Animal products don’t do good things for your risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, and heart disease, and we just keep finding more studies to prove it. If you’re not ready to ditch all meat and dairy products, try easing into a more vegetable-rich diet Meatless Monday or even just trying to stay vegan until dinner.
4. Walking more is one of the best things you can do for heart health.
Working out regularly and getting a tough cardiovascular workout is really, really good for you. But don’t underestimate the power of walking. A recent study found that women who walk just 35 minutes a day have a lower risk of stroke and improved cardiovascular health compared to women who don’t fit in as much walking. If you’re not a big walker, check out our tips for how to walk more (even if you have a desk job and drive everywhere).
5. Lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease isn’t complicated.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that will prevent heart disease–only ones to treat it (and trust us, you’ll be happier and healthier if you can avoid becoming dependent on prescription pills). But taking the steps to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease isn’t mysterious or complicated. This is the checklist for optimal heart health, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association:
- No high blood pressure
- No high cholesterol
- No diabetes
- Not overweight
- Not underweight
- Not obese
- Don’t smoke
- Do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week
- Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day
But simple doesn’t mean easy: The same study says that only 3% of Americans