Bless Your Heart

Bless your heart. It’s one of those sayings that only a Southerner can truly understand. But during February, which exudes Valentine’s Day, hearts, Cupid, and love, it’s a reminder to take care of your own heart…because your heart doesn’t belong to just you.

Did you know that your heart is your hardest working muscle? It beats 100,000 times a day, and almost one million times a week. February is American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health, because keeping your heart healthy is central to overall good health. You are never too old or too young to begin taking good care of your heart. Taking small steps to follow a healthy lifestyle at any age can help prevent heart disease and lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Conditions that lead to heart disease may begin early in life, but there are many steps you can take to protect your heart health. Start by knowing your risk factors. Some, like family history or being over the age of 45, are beyond your control, but there are risk factors that you can do something about.

“Although some heart disease factors like family history can’t be controlled, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health,” said Forrest Health cardiologist, C. Murphy Hinson, DO.

Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of these three risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Smoking

Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

In order to have a healthy heart, you need to start with healthy habits.

A healthy weight and diet are ways to avoid heart disease. Your heart and overall health will benefit if you follow these nutritional guidelines:

  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat fiber-rich whole grains
  • Choose low-fat dairy products
  • Eat lean meats and at least two servings per week of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, herring)
  • Limit sodium to less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Watch fat and sugar intake
  • Only drink alcohol in moderation
  • Watch portion sizes
  • Drink plenty of water

Get Moving

A regular exercise program helps to decrease your resting heart rate and boost good cholesterol. “Try to exercise about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) a week which can be divided up in different ways to work with your schedule,” said Hinson. Walking is a great way to get started, because it’s easy to do, inexpensive and available everywhere with no gear required. Small changes in exercise can have a big impact on cardiac wellness. “Just getting up and being active is important,” Hinson said.

There are plenty of great places to walk right here in Hattiesburg such as Kamper Park, Town Square Park, or the Long Leaf Trace, or get creative and walk a few laps at Turtle Creek Mall, The University of Southern Mississippi campus, the Thames Elementary School Walking Track, or the sidewalks of Downtown Hattiesburg. You don’t have to get in your car to go somewhere and walk. Get out in your neighborhood, where you are close to home, and walk or walk up and down your driveway. It doesn’t matter where, just walk.

Keep Your Weight in Check

Your risk of heart disease and stroke lowers if you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Discuss your weight with your healthcare provider to make sure you are in the healthy range and determine which steps you can take to lose weight if you need to. Hinson recommends a heart healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, lean proteins, whole grains, limiting sugar intake and watching salt intake as well as avoiding dessert, soft drinks or sports drinks which have a lot of sugar and are empty calories. “Water is what you should be drinking most of the day,” HInson said.

“Portion control is also important whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight,” he said.

Sleep on It

Getting a good night’s sleep (at least seven hours per night) is another small step with big payoffs for heart health. Not getting enough sleep puts you at a higher risk for heart disease.

Treat Stress and Mental Health Problems

Keep stress in check by taking time each day to relax and unwind. Exercise is a good way to alleviate stress. Get help if you have trouble coping because of depression, anxiety, or other health problems.

Know Your Numbers for Optimal Heart Health

Talk to your healthcare provider to learn your key health numbers to keep your heart strong and healthy. You can also check your numbers when you donate blood as that information is provided to each donor.

Don’t skip a beat when it comes to your heart health. Listen to your heart and protect yourself and the ones you love.

About Forrest General’s Cardiac Services

Forrest General’s Heart and Vascular Services delivers expert care from board-certified cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, and vascular surgeons. Services range from diagnostic testing, heart surgery and structural heart treatment to interventional cardiology, cardiac rehabilitation and vascular treatment. For more information, visit