Heart health highlighted this month

ESCANABA — February is American Heart Month, and Kristi Steger of Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties shared some advice on how people in the area can improve their cardiovascular health this month and beyond.

According to Steger, it is extremely important for people to keep their cardiovascular health in mind.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States,” she said.

One major element of heart health is blood pressure, Steger said.

“It’s important to know what your blood pressure is, and if it is elevated … to take steps to bring that blood pressure down to a normal reading,” she said. She noted high blood pressure can lead to health problems such as heart attacks and strokes, among other issues.

Steger said people who are concerned about their blood pressure should talk to their health care provider about this.

“Individuals should follow up with their health care provider regarding high blood pressure,” she said. After doing this, they should take any blood pressure medication they are prescribed.

People with high blood pressure are also encouraged to be physically active, eat a heart-healthy diet, limit their alcohol intake, avoid smoking, and limit their caffeine intake.

“Caffeine can also raise blood pressure,” Steger said.

Cholesterol plays a prominent role in heart health, as well.

“That’s really important, to know what your cholesterol levels are,” Steger said.

More specifically, people should know their high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. Steger said people should take steps to try to raise their HDL levels.

“That’s your good cholesterol, and you want that HDL to be as high as possible,” she said. In contrast, LDL can cause issues by collecting on artery walls.

Avoiding smoking, along with engaging in exercise and physical activity, can help people keep their HDL levels high. To lower their LDL levels, people can exercise and make healthy diet choices.

HDL and LDL levels are two of the factors measured in a blood test known as a “lipid panel.” This test also measures total cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. People can limit their triglyceride levels by watching their intake of unhealthy fats, alcohol, and sugary drinks.

Steger said a program she is involved in which is called “WISEWOMAN” is designed to help people avoid high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other chronic diseases.

“(It’s) a program for women between the ages of 40 and 64 who meet income eligibility guidelines, and … it’s to help with chronic disease risk reduction,” she said.

One local initiative which was made possible by WISEWOMAN is Public Health’s snowshoe rental program.

“We got (these) with a WISEWOMAN grant to promote physical activity in our community,” Steger said.

Steger said American Heart Month serves as a good opportunity to start conversations related to cardiovascular health.

“It’s a wonderful time to raise awareness about the importance of taking good care of your heart and being your healthy best,” she said.