Maintaining A Healthy Heart

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, which is why it’s so important to take care of your ticker. Below, we answer your questions about how to care for your heart and decrease the odds of suffering from heart disease.

Q: My father smokes. Does this really negatively impact his heart?

A: Absolutely. The nicotine contained in tobacco can raise blood pressure and the carbon monoxide (present in the gas phase of tobacco smoke) reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. But smoking is hardly the only type of negative behavior that increases the risk of heart disease. Diet can also play a large role in heart disease. Eating foods high in saturated fats can increase blood pressure and increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Q: My maternal grandfather had heart disease, but my mom is healthy as a horse. Do I need to be concerned?

A: Possibly, but not necessarily. Like many other diseases, heart disease has a genetic factor. If you have a history of heart disease in your family, even a grandparent, you should talk with your physician to see if you are at risk. Another factor to consider when heart disease is common among family members is lifestyle choices. Although it can be hereditary, heart disease also stems from poor health. Family members who live together can adopt each other’s bad habits such as smoking and poor diet. When looking at your family history, be sure to examine all the factors.

Q: What are some preventive measures I can take to avoid heart disease?

A: There are several preventative measures you can take in order to help fight against heart disease. Here is a list of things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle:

  • Quit smoking or using tobacco – The use of tobacco is one of the leading causes of heart problems. Nicotine makes the heart work harder and carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood. Within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease decreases significantly.
  • Exercise – It is recommended that you exercise for at least thirty minutes a day to reduce the risk of heart disease. Exercise will help control your weight, which will reduce the strain on your heart.
  • Eating well – There is a specialty diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) that can help protect your heart. Foods on the DASH eating plan are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Saturated fat and trans fat can increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising cholesterol levels. These fats can be found in red meat, dairy products, coconut oil, fried foods, packaged foods, margarine, and certain bakery products. In addition to reducing these foods, you should also increase your vegetable and fruit intake.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – If you have excess weight, it puts a strain on your heart and increases your chances of high blood pressure and cholesterol. One of the ways to check your weight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). Taking in consideration your height and weight, a reading of twenty-five or more indicates that you are overweight. Another option to see if you are at a healthy weight is to measure your waistline. For women, generally speaking, being overweight means that you have a waistline of thirty-five inches or more, and for men, it means of having a waistline of forty inches or more.
  • Get health screenings – Undergo regular blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol screenings to track how you are maintaining your health. Ask your doctor for recommendations on how often you should screen your health.

Q: What is the difference between a heart attack, stroke, and heart failure?

A: When it comes to your heart, you should know that various life-threatening events that can occur:

  • Heart attack – A heart attack occurs when blood supply to the heart is diminished or even cut off. When this happens, the lack of oxygen damages the heart resulting in a heart attack. Blood supply is reduced when the arteries narrow or there is a blockage in the passage.
  • Stroke – A stroke occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the brain. Much like the heart, the limited blood flow decreases the amount of oxygen going to the brain and therefore depleting your brain tissue from the nutrients it needs.
  • Heart failure – Heart failure, or congestive heart failure (CHF), occurs when your heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. This is a condition where over time, arteries will narrow, and the heart will be too weak to pump efficiently.


For more information on heart disease and measures to take to prevent heart disease, please visit,, and

This information is for educational purposes. Please consult your physician for any medical issues. The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is committed to bringing trusted and quality home health and private care to Brevard County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 321-752-7550 or visit