Heart Disease Prevention
Heart disease is a
debilitating condition for many Americans. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s the leading cause of death in the United
States. Certain risk factors make some individuals more likely to have heart
disease. Risk factors fall into two categories. modifiable risk factors are ones
you can control such as weight. non-modifiable risk factors are ones you can’t
control, like genetics.
The good news is that
your choices can influence your heart health. Through lifestyle changes like
smoking cessation, healthy eating, exercise, and managing diabetes, blood
pressure and stress, you can greatly reduce your chance of heart disease.
The most crucial step
you can take to lower your risk of heart disease is to quit smoking. Smoking is
one of the leading risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and
stroke. Smoking causes a buildup of a fatty substance (plaque) in the arteries,
which eventually leads to a hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Smoking damages organs and worsens many other risk factors for heart disease.
It reduces your amount of good
cholesterol (HDL) and raises blood pressure, which can cause increased stress
on your arteries.
Smoking cessation has
been proven to reduce heart disease. According to the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, many states have begun programs
to limit or reduce smoking in the general population. In the states where
smoking reduction programs have been successful, there’s been a decrease in
hospitalizations for heart disease.
The effects of quitting
smoking are quite sudden. Your blood pressure will decrease, your circulation
will improve, and your oxygen supply will increase. These changes will boost
your energy level and make exercise easier. Over time, your body will begin to
heal itself. After one year of being
smoke-free, your risk for heart disease will be reduced by 50 percent. In
addition to quitting smoking, you should avoid others who smoke, as secondhand
smoke can also negatively impact your health.
Nutrition and Diet
Nutrition and diet play
a huge role in preventing heart disease. According to the
Mayo Clinic, research suggests that even if you have a family history or
genetic predisposition for heart disease, maintaining a good diet can reduce
your risk. Most research has shown that a diet high in raw fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids (often found in fish) helps
prevent heart disease. The Mediterranean-style diet in particular is known to
reduce the occurrence of heart disease. Along with increased servings of fruits
and vegetables, whole grains, and fish twice a week, the Mediterranean-style
diet focuses on the use of olive oil (healthy fat) and herbs, consuming nuts,
and limiting red meat to one or two
times a month.
To maintain a healthy
diet, you’ll also need to avoid or limit some foods that worsen heart disease.
This includes foods with high amounts of sugar and salt, alcoholic beverages,
and foods with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Don’t forget that watching
calories is important, too. Know how many calories per day you should be
getting and focus on eating a variety of foods that are high in nutrients and
low in calories.
Exercise and Weight Loss Management
Exercise and maintaining
a healthy weight are also vital to lowering your blood pressure and preventing
heart disease. According to the
Mayo Clinic, experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a
day, or 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise doesn’t
have to be intensive. Simple activities like walking your dog, cleaning your
house, or performing yard work count as exercise. The key is to stay active.
The ultimate goal of
exercising is to maintain a healthy weight. You have to balance your caloric
intake with the amount of exercise you get. Find out what your body mass index
(BMI) is to set weight loss goals. By maintaining a healthy weight, you’ll
lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for other complications.
Diabetes is a serious
risk factor for heart disease. It has harmful effects on multiple organs in the
body when left untreated and can lead to peripheral artery disease, stroke, and
other complications. If you have diabetes, manage your condition to prevent
regular checkups with your health care provider, eating a healthy diet, and
exercising. Diabetes is managed with medications in some cases. By choosing a
healthy lifestyle, you can limit the effects of diabetes and reduce your risk
of heart disease.
Lowering Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension)
can cause increased stress on your cardiovascular system and contribute to
heart disease. You can lower your blood pressure through diet, exercise, weight
management, and avoiding stress and smoking. One of the best ways to lower
blood pressure is to limit your salt intake and alcohol consumption.
If you know you have
high blood pressure, work closely with your health care provider and monitor
your blood pressure on a regular basis. Take all medications your provider prescribes for your
blood pressure and take them as directed. High blood pressure is difficult to
detect, so if you’re unsure whether or not you have it, consult your doctor.
Stress affects everyone
in different ways. Though it’s not well understood, there’s a link between
people who experience high amounts of stress over long periods of time and
heart disease. Stress can cause sleep loss, pain and headaches, and can exhaust
the body. Chronic stress can cause the heart to work harder. This will worsen
any other risk factors for heart disease you may have.
There are many
stress-reducing habits you can adopt that will help improve your overall health.
Physical activity or exercise is one way
of reducing stress. Slowing down and performing relaxation exercises or
breathing techniques, such as used in
yoga, are also helpful. Letting go of worries and spending more time with
family and friends also contribute to a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle. It’s
also important to get enough sleep.
Although the diagnosis
of heart disease is frightening, there are many lifestyle choices you can make
to help prevent this disease. Quitting smoking, nutrition, exercising, and
reducing stress and high blood pressure can have a significant impact on
preventing heart disease.