Are you doing enough to maintain a healthy heart? Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing some 610,000 men and women each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means heart disease causes roughly 1 out of 4 deaths in the U.S. While there’s no magic pill to protect against heart disease, you can lower your risk by making some simple changes to your lifestyle.
1. Quit Smoking
There’s no better time than the present to kick your smoking habit. Not only does it damage the lungs, smoking also increases the risk of heart disease. According to the World Health Federation (WHF), smoking is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), causing 10% of all cases.
Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, resulting in a buildup of fat known as atheroma. When this occurs, it creates blockages in the arteries that can lead to stroke or heart attack.
2. Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor of heart disease. The excessive pressure creates small tears in the arterial walls, which later forms scar tissue. Once this damage occurs, cholesterol, fats, and plaque will accumulate inside the arteries, restricting the flow of blood while subsequently increasing the risk of stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD), and coronary artery disease (CAD).
When your heart beats, it pumps more blood through your body, increasing your blood pressure. Consequently, blood pressure drops when the heart becomes less active, such as nighttime when you are asleep. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults keep their blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg (120 systolic and 80 diastolic).
3. Consume More Unsaturated Fats and Less Trans/Saturated Fats
There are several different types of dietary fat, some of which are bad for your health while others are good. Causing an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks per year, trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil) is the absolute worst, and you should eliminate it from your diet.
Although not as bad as trans fat, you should still limit your intake of saturated fat. Commonly found in red meat, whole milk, cheese, and other dairy products (among other foods), saturated fats remain solid at room temperature. Diets high in saturated fat may lead to high cholesterol, clogged arteries, and heart disease.
On the other side of the “fat fence” are unsaturated fats, including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. As explained in this article published by Harvard Medical School, diets high in unsaturated fats, particularly those consisting of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, have been linked to lower rates of heart disease.
Here are some leading sources of unsaturated fats:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Canola oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Flax seeds
- Peanut butter
Stress can and WILL take a toll on your heart, increasing your risk of heart disease. When you experience stress, your body responds by reducing blood flow to the heart, which in turn increases the chance of clotting and disease–and those are just the short-term effects. If your stress levels remain high for a prolonged period, it can damage your arteries and blood vessels, making them vulnerable to atherosclerosis.
Furthermore, people who experience chronic stress tend to make bad choices. Maybe they’ll eat fast food instead of cooking their own meals, or perhaps they’ll start smoking. These bad choices can compound the effects of stress on the heart.
Everybody experiences stress during their life, but some experience it more frequently than others. It becomes a problem, however, when stress interferes with your health. So, practice deep breathing and meditation to relax and lower your stress levels.
5. Get Moving
Physical activity and heart health are closely linked. According to some reports, the average adult exercises for just 17 minutes per day. In contrast, the average adult watches between 4-5 hours of TV per day. There’s nothing wrong with kicking back on the couch and watching your favorite show, but if you spend more time sitting than you do standing, it could increase your risk of heart disease.
You can improve your heart health and protect against disease by exercising. Moderate and vigorous exercise strengthens the heart, improving its ability to pump blood throughout the body. It also opens the tiny blood vessels known as capillaries, allowing blood to blow more freely.
6. Manage Diabetes
Diabetes is a primary risk factor of heart disease. So if you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from diabetes, you should take a proactive approach towards managing this disease.
The good news is that diabetes is manageable and treatable, but you need to put forth the effort. This includes eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, and monitoring your blood glucose levels on a daily basis.
7. Maintain a Healthy Weight
This goes hand-in-hand with exercise, but it’s still worth mentioning that weight affects heart health and heart disease risk. The larger your body, the greater your heart must work to pump blood to the necessary organs. And when this workload becomes too much, the heart can fail.
Being overweight also increases the risk of heart disease by narrowing the arteries (notice a pattern?). Cholesterol and fat accumulate within the arteries, hardening and eventually turning to plaque. When the problem becomes severe enough, particles can get stuck inside the narrow arteries, causing a stroke when dislodged.
For more tips on heart health, contact us today.