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As a runner, heart disease is probably the last thing on your mind. After all, you’re in great cardiovascular shape and your heart gets stronger with each run, right? Well…heart disease can strike anyone—even runners, if they aren’t careful. February is American Heart Month, making it the perfect time to chat about your most important organ. If you experience any of these warning signs, it’s time to visit your doctor.
Common Heart Disease Symptoms
Shortness Of Breath (When You’re Not Running)
Runners are no strangers to running (pun intended) out of breath. Though your lungs have to work overtime while running, they shouldn’t struggle for breath when you’re not exerting energy. If you experience shortness of breath while walking or during a low-intensity activity, talk to your doctor.
Once again, you’re probably familiar with an increase in heart rate while practicing your sport. But an elevated heart rate or heart fluttering when you’re not active is a warning sign of cardiovascular issues.
This may sound obvious, but talk to you doctor immediately if you experience a tightness or pain in the chest.
Nausea And Vomiting
You may experience these symptoms while dealing with other issues, like the flu or food poisoning. But if you encounter unexplained nausea and vomiting for an extended period of time, talk to your doctor about your heart health.
If any of these numbers are high upon your next doctor’s visit, it could be an indication of heart issues. Aim for numbers in the healthy range, as noted below:
Total cholesterol: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
LDL (“bad” cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good” cholesterol): 40 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL
Blood pressure: 120/80 or lower
Heart Disease Prevention
All of these warning signs sound troubling, but there are many things you can do to prevent heart disease before it starts, including:
- Getting your daily allotment of exercise helps! The Dietary Guidelines recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times per week. Unfortunately, a two-hour weekend run doesn’t count as all you need. Try to spread exercise out throughout the week.
- Don’t smoke! Enough said.
- Keep the stress to a minimum. This is easier said than done, but your life already includes a great stress reliever: running!
- Eat a healthy diet full of veggies, fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins and whole grains. The following foods have ample research showing that they protect the heart and fit well into your runner’s diet:
- Oats—Not only is this morning staple great fuel, it also contains a fiber called beta-glucan. Eating just three grams of this simple fiber each day can reduce bad cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent.
- 100 percent grape juice—Did you know that your pre-run juice may actually help your heart? As a matter of fact, 100 percent grape juice made with Concord grapes delivers more than 250 milligrams of heart-healthy polyphenols. More than 20 years of science says this can help support a healthy heart, and early research even suggests that drinking 100 percent grape juice may help runners enhance their performance.
- Leafy greens, like kale and spinach—There’s a reason salads are a healthy lunch choice, and it’s not just because they are low in calories. Dark, leafy greens are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help keep your heart strong.
- Walnuts—This fat is actually good for your heart. Walnuts are rich in omega-3s, which research has shown to be part of a heart-healthy diet. So, why not top your oatmeal or salad with some heart-healthy nuts?