Most of the risk factors for heart disease can be prevented or treated with lifestyle changes and medication. Risk factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (high triglycerides and low HDL or “good” cholesterol)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heavy alcohol use
People with multiple risk factors are at higher risk for developing heart disease. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your risks.
Healthy diet – Healthy diets significantly lower risks of heart disease. Healthy diets consist of:
- Five or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables daily
- Monounsaturated fat rather than trans fatty acids or saturated fats
- Low sodium intake
- Whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain cereals and oatmeal) rather than refined grains (white bread, white rice, refined and sweetened cereals). Refined grains are associated with long-term weight gain
- Fat-free or low-fat milk products (skim milk, yogurt)
- Protein-rich foods, including seafood, lean meat such as poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds
- Limited consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages (fruit drinks)
Physical activity – Studies show increased physical activity lowers the chances that a person will develop or die from heart disease. Common recommendations include 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise, 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, or brisk walking for 20 minutes daily.
Weight loss – Obesity increases several major and modifiable risk factors for heart disease including hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. Weight loss decreases these risks.
Smoking cessation – Cigarette smoking is the leading avoidable cause of premature death. When a person quits smoking, benefits begin to appear after only a few months and reach that of the nonsmoker in several years. Approaches to smoking cessation include behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy, and other drug therapies.
Hypertension control – High blood pressure is a well-established risk factor for heart disease and can be managed though diet, exercise and drug therapy as appropriate.
Dyslipidemia control – Better cholesterol levels can be achieved through exercise, diet and drug therapy as appropriate.
Diabetes control – Diabetes is also regarded as a heart disease equivalent. Controlling your blood sugar involves weight management, blood pressure and lipid control to prevent some of the complications that lead to heart disease.
Alcohol – Studies show that consuming small amounts of alcohol lowers the risks of developing or dying from heart disease. The benefit of small daily alcohol intake must be weighed against the increased risks that are apparent when a person consumes more than one drink daily.
Aspirin – Aspirin therapy can be effective only when recommended by your doctor. Be sure to talk with your care team about whether or not a daily aspirin can benefit you.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and exercise not only prevents heart disease, but also wards off other illnesses. So get heart-healthy. It will make a big impact on your quality of life!