February is National Heart Month and also marks the annual Heart Walk in McDuffie County, so it's an ideal time for experts to offer some steps designed to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Thomson physician Dr. Jacqueline Fincher's advice is, "Know your numbers."
"You have to know what your risk factors are. You need to know your cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar," she said.
In addition to learning those numbers by age 25, she advises working in partnership with your doctor to get those numbers at goal level.
Fasting blood sugar should be under 100, blood pressure under 140/90 (130/80 for diabetics), and total cholesterol under 200. More importantly, the LDL cholesterol should be under 100, she said.
Exercise and diet play important roles in keeping the numbers where they should be, Dr. Fincher said.
"We need to move around every day. The goal is thirty minutes a day," she said.
New guidelines from the Heart Association recommend people do something every day to raise their heart rate.
Exercise can help with weight gain, which has been on the rise and has contributed to an epidemic of diabetes, she noted.
"Those who are 20 to 30 pounds overweight need to have blood sugar checked every year," she said.
It's important to strive for a healthy diet, and guidelines include choosing lean meats, five servings of fruits or vegetables every day, and low fat dairy products. Calcium found in dairy products is helpful for weight loss and is also important for bone health in women, she added.
Controlling hypertension is of paramount importancet to heart health, Dr. Fincher said.
"Hypertension is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke in women. Seventy percent of women by age 70 have hypertension that needs to be treated," Dr. Fincher said.
"The arteries just get harder the older they get, so they don't expand and contract as well," she said.
Also to reduce risks, quitting smoking is critical, she said.
More women in this county die of heart disease and stroke every year than men.
Although women fear breast cancer, "Women die 10 to one from heart disease and stroke over breast cancer," she said.