Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. This includes heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Not all risk factors for heart disease are controllable (like age, family history, and race and ethnicity), but many others are.
Preventable risk factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (high triglycerides and low HDL or “good” cholesterol)
- Heavy alcohol use
Change your lifestyle to decrease your risk
People with multiple risk factors are at higher risk for developing heart disease. A healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, not using tobacco, managing stress, and eating healthfully, can certainly lower the risk for heart disease. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your risks:
Studies show increased physical activity lowers the chances that a person will develop or die from heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 total minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. In addition, muscle-strengthening activity should be performed at least two days per week. If you are currently inactive, it is important to slowly work up to this level of activity.
Cigarette smoking is the leading avoidable cause of premature death. Tobacco damages blood vessels, temporarily raises blood pressure, and reduces exercise tolerance. 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.
Stress is an inevitable part of life; however, chronic unmanaged stress is linked to increased risk of heart disease. Stress itself can raise blood pressure. Additionally, stress can lead to engaging in other unhealthy habits such as overeating, under-exercising, or using tobacco. If you cannot find ways to manage stress on your own, seek out stress management classes or resources.
A diet that is considered “heart-healthy” is truly a diet that everyone can follow, regardless of existing heart disease. Basic tenants of a heart-healthy diet are rooted in common sense:
- Follow your hunger and satiety cues and avoid oversized portions of less healthy foods. Since excess weight contributes to heart disease risk, it’s important to make sure that portion sizes and total calories per day are not excessive for your daily activity level.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They’re full of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of potassium. Potassium can lessen the negative effects of sodium on blood pressure.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains. In the processing of refined grains, parts of the grain kernel are stripped away, thus removing most of the fiber, B-vitamins, and iron. The term “whole grain” means that the entire grain kernel is intact, as are the nutrients. The fiber in whole grains can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Reduce sodium intake. Most Americans consume much more than the recommended 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Most of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods and restaurant foods. Check nutrition facts labels and choose food items with less than 20 percent of the daily value for sodium. Reduce the amount of salt used in cooking and at the table.
- Be choosy about protein sources. Research shows that poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds are optimal protein sources. Higher-fat meats, such as dark meat poultry and red meat, can be included, but in reasonable portions. Avoid processed meats like hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon, and sausage.
- Include heart-healthy fat sources. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines), walnuts and walnut oil, canola oil, and flaxseed all provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are cardio-protective. Nuts, nut butters, olive oil, and avocado are also healthy sources of fat. Avoid trans fat, which is found in processed food items.
- Limit consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages (like fruit drinks).
Obesity increases several major and modifiable risk factors for heart disease including hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. Weight loss decreases these risks.
Better cholesterol levels can be achieved through exercise, diet and drug therapy as appropriate.
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.
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 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.
Get heart healthy and improve your quality of life!
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!