3 simple steps to jump-start your heart health this year – Harvard Health Blog

In 2020, the terrible toll of the COVID-19 pandemic largely overshadowed the affliction that remains the leading cause of death in this country: heart disease. In the United States last year, at least twice as many people died from cardiovascular causes as those who died from complications from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus.

While the challenges from the virus are new, experts have been studying heart disease for decades — and everyone can benefit from that knowledge. “The lifestyle habits that keep your heart healthy may also leave you less vulnerable to serious complications from infections such as COVID-19 and influenza,” says cardiologist Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.

So what exactly are those heart-healthy habits? The American Heart Association refers to them as “Life’s Simple 7.” Put simply, they are:

1) Stop smoking

2) Eat better

3) Be active

4) Lose weight

5) Manage your blood pressure

6) Control your cholesterol

7) Reduce your blood sugar

Choosing three steps to jump-start heart health this year

But seven steps may seem like too much to manage, or may even seem overwhelming. So, let’s make it even simpler by focusing on just a few. Of course, not everyone needs to lose weight or lower their blood sugar. And in reality, most Americans don’t smoke, so step one doesn’t apply to very many people.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for steps two and three. Most people don’t eat enough plant-based foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fruit. And few Americans get the recommended amounts of exercise. That’s at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) each week, plus muscle-strengthening activity (like lifting weights) at least two days each week.

Of course, improving both your

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Sexual health and gender-affirming care – Harvard Health Blog

LGBTQ+ people are often considered a cohesive group, but sexual orientation and gender identity are different. Sexual orientation describes who a person prefers to be sexually intimate with. Gender identity, on the other hand, describes their sense of themselves as male, female, or another gender. Transgender and other gender diverse (TGD) people, whose gender identity is not aligned with their recorded sex at birth, can have any sexual orientation. (The same is true, of course, with cisgender people, whose gender identity aligns with their recorded sex at birth.)

What is sexual health?

Sexual health is a concept that goes beyond pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention. The World Health Organization describes it as “the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.” This is not assured for many people, particularly TGD people, who face higher risks for discrimination and interpersonal violence, including within their intimate relationships.

This blog post discusses two aspects of sexual health: how certain types of gender-affirming care may affect sexuality and fertility.

Can gender affirmation through medical or surgical means affect your sexuality?

The lived experience of every TGD person is unique, as are their approaches to gender affirmation. While some people may choose to affirm their gender only socially, or not at all, others use a variety of medical and surgical procedures to do so. Some research shows that gender-affirming care, when accessible and desired, may reduce distress and can make it easier to live in a sometimes hostile world.

People are more likely to enjoy intimacy with others when they are happier and feel comfortable in their own skin. Those who choose to pursue gender-affirming care may find it affects their sexuality in both positive and negative ways. The examples below speak to both possibilities, although

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Wondering about COVID-19 vaccines if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding? – Harvard Health Blog

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out, pregnant and breastfeeding people have many questions around risks and benefits. At first, many of those receiving vaccines in US will be healthcare workers, although the circles for vaccine eligibility are widening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine agree that the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to pregnant and breastfeeding individuals who are eligible for vaccination.

Here are answers to some basic questions you may have about getting a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding — or are considering a pregnancy. Keep in mind that information is evolving rapidly. Your obstetric provider or medical team can advise you more fully, based on your personal health risks, exposures to the virus that causes COVID-19, and preferences.

What do we know about how COVID-19 affects people who are pregnant?

COVID-19 is potentially dangerous for all people. Although the actual risk of severe illness and death among pregnant individuals is very low, it is higher when compared to nonpregnant individuals from the same age group. Those who are pregnant are at higher risk for being hospitalized in an intensive care unit and requiring a high level of care, including breathing support on a machine, and are at higher risk for dying if this happens.

If you’re pregnant, you may also wonder about risks to the fetus if you get COVID-19. Research suggests that having COVID-19 might increase risk for premature birth, particularly for those with severe illness. So far, studies have not identified any birth defects associated with COVID-19. And while transmission of the virus from mother to baby during pregnancy is possible, it appears to be a rare event. You can read more about pregnancy and

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Can gout be prevented? – Harvard Health Blog

To many people, gout seems like a disease of the past. Cartoons from 200 years ago depicted it as a condition afflicting the wealthy (“the disease of kings”), whose gluttonous consumption of food and drink was thought to bring on the attacks of debilitating arthritis.

All these years later, much about gout is still misunderstood. Shame, derision, and the belief that the gout sufferer deserves the condition linger. And rather than being a disease of the past, gout is quite common — and rates are rising. Estimates suggest gout affects nearly 4% of the adult population in the US, an increase from prior decades. And it’s not a disease limited to the well-to-do; it affects people of all economic classes.

The most likely explanations for the rising rates of gout are an aging population and excess weight. Both are major risk factors for the disease. The expanding waistline of the average American probably plays a bigger role than age, since overweight and obesity have increased more rapidly than the average age of Americans in recent decades.

A study of gout suggests ways to avoid it

Even though research has identified some preventable risk factors for gout, the impact of modifying them is uncertain. Now a new study published in JAMA Network Open has found that more than three-quarters of gout cases affecting men might be completely avoidable. And since gout affects men more often than women, this finding is notable.

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 45,000 men who completed detailed surveys about their health, habits, and medications every two years for 25 years. Comparing those who developed gout (nearly 4%) with those who did not, four factors were identified as protective:

  • normal body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight and height (see calculator)
  • no alcohol consumption
  • no
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