Mercy Health -Youngstown celebrates American Heart Month

Brought to you by MERCY HEALTH

Every February is recognized as American Heart Month, which provides all of us an opportunity to focus on heart health and encourage family, friends and our communities to become involved in their heart health and wellness.

The first step to preventing heart disease is understanding the risks associated with diets, exercise and family history as well as how small changes in some of these can reduce your chance of heart disease.

According to Dr. Steven Ballas, cardiologist at Mercy Health – Youngstown, while symptoms such as uncomfortable pressure or pain in the center of the chest tend to be the most common, there are others that are not as common but equally as dangerous.

Nausea, dizziness, stomach or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, sweating, weakness or fatigue may all be indicators of a heart attack. Women and diabetics may be more likely to experience symptoms outside of the classic chest pain. It’s important to be in-tune with your body and realize what your risk factors are.

“Many of these signs are attributed to other health issues and we must not take them for granted,” said Dr. Ballas. “Conversations with your doctor are critical in understanding the true cause of such symptoms,” he added.

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We must be aware of all heart attack symptoms, especially if you use tobacco products, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, lack physical activity, are overweight, or have a family history of heart disease.

“Lifestyle changes remain the most control you have over your health, especially heart health,” Dr. Ballas said. “With recently changed high blood pressure guidelines, an additional 30 million Americans are considered to have high blood pressure.” he said.

More than 103.3 million Americans are now facing “the silent killer”, which is heart disease. The lifestyle modifications that help reduce high blood pressure are more important than ever because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease.

“The first step to controlling and lowering high blood pressure is through lifestyle changes,” said Dr. Ballas. “Even the smallest changes in your diet and exercise habits can reduce your risk for heart disease. Start by focusing on the risk factors that you can treat and control, such as high cholesterol, alcohol intake and tobacco use.”

Below are five easy ways to lower blood pressure. However, before making any major lifestyle changes, Mercy Health recommends you should speak with your primary-care doctor.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to control your blood pressure. Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Carrying too much weight around your waist (more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women) can put you at a greater risk. Losing just 10 pounds can help reduce your blood pressure, ultimately reducing your risk for heart disease.

Regular Exercise

At least 30 minutes of regular physical activity most days of the week is one of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure. However, consistency is important here. If you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again. Some of the best types of exercise for reducing blood pressure are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing.

Healthy Diet/Low Sodium

Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products as well as watching sodium intake are easy ways to lower blood pressure. At the same time, try to cut down on saturated fats and cholesterol. For many of us, changing eating habits is easier said than done. A great way to spur positive change is to make a food diary. Start by writing down what you eat for one week to get a better picture of what you eat, how much, when and why.

Additionally, aim to boost your potassium intake. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. In general, try to limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can lower your blood pressure. Be sure to read food labels when you shop and choose low-sodium alternatives and fewer processed foods. From there, avoid adding additional salt

Limit Alcohol Consumption

In small amounts, alcohol can potentially lower your blood pressure. But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much—more than one drink (a single drink equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor) day for women and men older than 65, or more than two drinks a day for men 65 and younger. Drinking any more than these moderate amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure by several points. Meanwhile, it also reduces the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

Find Ways to Reduce Stress

Chronic stress is a big contributor to high blood pressure. Even occasional stress can contribute to high blood pressure especially for those that react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking. Examine the causes of your stress. Is it family, work, finances, illness? Once you determine what’s causing your stress, you can take steps to eliminate or reduce it (yes, easier said than done).

Once you start making lifestyle changes, we recommend monitoring your blood pressure at home. And while making major changes can be beneficial, it’s often just as effective to take change one small step at a time. Try just one of these easy ways to lower blood pressure, and then after you do it consistently, add in another one.

Check back next week for tips about foods that help reduce your risk of heart disease. Want more tips and information now? Follow Mercy Health on the Mercy Health Lifestyle Blog at

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