February is heart health month, and I'm a big proponent of "an ounce of prevention", so I thought I'd use this opportunity to review some heart healthy tips.
FIRST: Don't Smoke. I'm talking about nicotine products specifically, but other forms of smoking like marijuana and even smoking meats, can worsen heart health, so the same message holds. Obviously, if you don't smoke - don't start! But if you do smoke, there are lots of things your healthcare provider can offer (including medications) that can help you quit, so make sure to see your healthcare provider and know those options. The bottom line: not smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health.
SECOND: Exercise! 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise has almost the same effect as not smoking in terms of reducing overall health risks. The type of exercise is not important - even a brisk walk can get you there, but it does have to increase your heart rate. Think: get to that point where you've walked long enough that it's tough to speak in complete sentences. At that point, the positive endorphins are doing their work, making your heart more efficient and disease-proof. This is a little different than motion (like getting up to stretch every hour or so), which is also important for health but in a different way.
THIRD: Eat a healthy diet. When it comes to heart disease, the most important factor is fat, especially saturated and trans fats. A simple rule is to limit yourself to three days a week of fatty or fried food (less is better but I know how some people get around bacon and burgers). The other days, you can still have tacos, just skip the oil and red meat and pile on extra veggies. Salt can also be important, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, but we could all benefit from using more of other seasonings - one of my favorites is garlic, which is heart healthy. Also did you know that over 5% of the salt consumed in the US comes from pizza!?!? No? Well, now you do.
Finally, I wanted to share that LGBTQIA+ individuals, including those in medical treatment with hormones like testosterone, do not have increased risk of heart disease. Some previous studies have theorized links, but so far any difference seems more associated with other risks (for example, smoking rates are higher in LGBTQIA+ individuals than in the general population). But if you are getting treatment, whether with hormones, hormone blockers, or others medicines, regular checkups with your provider, including lab work, reduces your risk of some heart-disease related conditions like polycythemia.
February can be cold and feel long - sounds like lots of opportunity to work on your heart health! Good luck!
D. Scott McCracken, MD (he/him)