Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Heart Disease is an umbrella term that covers a variety of cardiovascular conditions, including blood vessel diseases, coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, congenital heart defects and infections of the heart. Although heart disease is a serious condition, there are some simple lifestyle choices you can make to lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Make the effort to quit smoking. If you do not smoke now, don’t start. Find an appropriate method for quitting smoking that works for you. Some people prefer to wean themselves off cigarettes by cutting back on the amount smoked each day. Others find better results when they quit cold turkey and abruptly give up all cigarettes at once.
Speak with your doctor about medications and other smoking cessation aids that he can prescribe to help you break your smoking habit. Inquire about local support groups in your area for individuals who are trying to quit smoking.
Eliminate exposure to all tobacco products, including chewing tobacco. Stay away from smokeless tobacco. It contains nicotine, which narrows your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder. This leads to an increase in blood pressure and elevates your heart rate, which increases your risk of heart disease.
Steer clear of all second-hand smoke. In addition to nicotine, it is full of carbon monoxide, which replaces some of the oxygen in the bloodstream when inhaled. When this happens, the heart is forced to work harder to supply oxygen to the body, which causes blood pressure to increase and elevates heart disease risk.
Engage in some type of physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week or more. Not only does exercise directly lower heart disease risk, it also indirectly lowers your chances of developing heart disease.
- Exercise regularly to help keep your weight at a healthy level, which reduces your risk of developing conditions that can lead to poor heart health, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
- Exercise regularly to relax and unwind, which can significantly decrease your stress levels. Elevated stress levels are a risk factor for the development of heart disease.
Consider taking an active lifestyle approach to exercise if you cannot fit 30 consecutive minutes of exercise into your daily schedule. Increase the amount of physical activity you perform each day by incorporating tiny changes to your everyday routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a 10 minute walk during your lunch break, walk to the bus stop to pick up the kids instead of driving, etc.
Carefully watch your weight as you age. As we age, we are more susceptible to weight gain. Individuals who are overweight are more likely to develop health conditions that increase their risk of developing heart disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes.
Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to determine if you have excess body fat and are at a healthy weight for your height. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight and is associated with elevated heart disease risk. Although BMI is a good tool for providing general body fat information, it does not take into account specific body types or the fact that muscle weighs more than fat.
Use a tape measure to measure your waist circumference. A measurement of 40 inches or above is considered overweight for men, and a measurement of 35 inches or above is overweight for women. Because abdominal fat is especially dangerous and associated with an increased risk of heart disease, wait circumference measurements are an effective tool in weight management.
Choose foods that are low in unhealthy fats and cholesterol. Eliminate all trans-fat and saturated from your diet. Tran-fat is the most dangerous type of fat and is linked to a host of negative side effects. Both types of fat are linked to increases in blood pressure and an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Decrease the amount of foods you eat that contain these type of fats, such as red meats, full-fat dairy products, palm oils, fried foods, packaged foods, margarine, and processed baked goods.
Boost your intake of foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids offer protection from heart disease and can be found in foods such as salmon and mackerel; flaxseed, walnut and canola oil and in certain vitamin and mineral supplements.
Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that you consume each day. Set a goal of 10 servings of fresh or frozen produce per day. The healthy plant substances found in fruits and vegetables can help prevent heart disease.
Opt for whole grains. They are an excellent source of fiber and contain several healthy nutrients that can help regulate blood pressure and improve overall heart health.
- Replace refined grain products with whole grain products.
- Choose whole-wheat flours, 100% whole grain bread, high-fiber cereal, whole grain pasta, steel-cut oats, brown rice and barley.
- Stay away from white or refined flours, white bread, frozen waffles, biscuits, corn bread, egg noodles, granola bars, high-fat snacks, quick breads, cakes, pies, donuts and buttered popcorn.
Add flaxseed to your diet. Flaxseeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and can help to lower cholesterol levels. The seeds can be eaten whole or ground up, and can be sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal, cold cereal, and applesauce. They can be tossed in salads and added to smoothies.
Pay attention to your portion size when eating. Although what you eat is important for heart health, how much you eat is also a factor in improving overall heart health. Refrain from overeating, which can lead to excess fat, cholesterol and calorie intake.
Learn to recognize what a healthy portion size is. Use measuring cups and spoons and weight scales to measure your portion sizes until you become familiar enough to recognize them by sight only.
Have blood pressure checked regularly, a minimum of every two years. If screenings detect that blood pressure numbers are not in the normal range, more frequent screenings may be necessary.
Have cholesterol levels checked every five years, beginning at the age of 20. If cholesterol levels are not within the normal range, more frequent screenings may be necessary. Individuals with other risk factors for heart disease may require yearly cholesterol checks.
Speak with your doctor about performing a fasting blood sugar test to check for diabetes if you have a family history of the disease or have other risk factors for heart disease. Your physician will likely perform your first diabetes screening between the ages of 30 and 45, with retesting done every 3 to 5 years.
Identify situations in your life that cause stress and try to eliminate or modify them. Learn coping mechanisms for sources of stress that cannot be eliminated, such as stress in the workplace. Explore stress relief options such as yoga, meditation, visualization, aromatherapy and deep breathing techniques.
Laugh. Laughing lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and may improve the lining of the blood vessels.
Take measures to improve your sleep quality and ensure that you get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Contact your physician if home remedies to improve sleep quality prove to be ineffective.
- Elevated stress levels can play a large role in the development of heart disease. Learning how to effectively manage stress can significantly decrease your risk of developing heart disease and help to improve your overall heart health.
- The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, known as the DASH diet, is a special eating plan that can effectively lower your risk of heart disease and improve your overall heart health.
- Regular exercise that is performed at least 5 days per week can significantly lower your risk of developing heart disease. When combined with other healthy lifestyle choices, exercise is a powerful tool in the fight against heart disease.
- Smoking and tobacco use are one of the top risk factors for the development of heart disease. The chemicals in cigarettes can cause significant damage to the heart and blood vessels. When damage occurs, it can cause atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries that can lead to a heart attack.
- Many individuals suffer from conditions that put them at risk of heart disease without even knowing it. That is because conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels often have no symptoms and can go undetected for years. Regular health screening exams are important for diagnostic testing and treatment of these conditions.
Heart disease is a serious medical condition that if left untreated can be fatal. Contact your doctor immediately if you think you may be at risk for heart disease or other conditions that increase your risk of developing heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or diabetes.