Heart disease is a debilitating condition for many Americans. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Certain risk factors make some people more likely to have heart disease. Risk factors are either modifiable or non-modifiable. Modifiable risk factors are factors you can control, such as body weight. Non-modifiable risk factors are factors you can’t control, such as genetics.
Your choices can influence your heart health. Lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your chance of heart disease. Positive lifestyle changes include:
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- healthy eating
- managing diabetes if you have diabetes
- managing blood pressure
- stress management
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, or plaque, in the arteries, which eventually leads to a hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. Smoking damages your organs, causing your body to function less optimally and increasing your risk for heart disease. It reduces your amount of good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, and raises blood pressure, which can cause increased stress on your arteries.
Smoking cessation has been proven to reduce heart disease. Many states have begun programs to limit or reduce smoking in the general population.
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. Your risk for heart disease reduces after you quit, and may be considerably reduced over time. You should avoid others who smoke because secondhand smoke can also negatively impact your health.
Nutrition and diet play a huge role in preventing heart disease. Maintaining a good diet can reduce your risk for heart disease. This is true even if you have a family history or genetic predisposition for heart disease. A diet high in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are often present in fish, helps prevent heart disease. The Mediterranean diet is known to reduce the occurrence of heart disease. This diet focuses on:
- eating herbs, nuts, and olive oil, which is a healthy fat
- limiting red meat consumption to one or two times per month
- increasing your servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- eating fish twice per week
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. 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.
Exercising 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 per day, or 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise doesn’t have to be intensive. The key is to stay active.
One of the main goals of exercise is maintaining a healthy weight. You have to balance your caloric intake with the amount of exercise you get. Find out what your body mass index is and use it to set weight loss goals. You’ll lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for other complications by maintaining a healthy weight.
Diabetes is a serious risk factor for heart disease. It has harmful effects on multiple organs in the body when left untreated, and it can lead to peripheral artery disease, stroke, and other complications. If you have diabetes, manage your condition to prevent heart disease.
Heart disease prevention measures for people with diabetes include:
- getting regular checkups from your doctor
- eating a healthy diet
You may need to manage diabetes with medications. You can limit the effects of diabetes and reduce your risk of heart disease by choosing a healthy lifestyle.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase stress on your cardiovascular system and contribute to heart disease. You can lower your blood pressure through:
- weight management
- avoiding stress
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- avoiding smoking
- limiting salt intake
- limiting alcohol consumption
Work closely with your doctor and monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis if you know you have high blood pressure. Take all medications your provider prescribes for your blood pressure, and take them as directed. High blood pressure is difficult to detect. Consult your doctor if you’re unsure whether or not you have it.
Stress affects everyone in different ways. There’s a link between people who experience high amounts of stress over long periods and heart disease. The link isn’t well understood.
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.
You can adopt many stress-reducing habits that will help improve your overall health. Physical activity or exercise is one way to reduce stress. Slowing down and performing relaxation exercises or breathing techniques, such as those used in yoga, is also helpful. Letting go of worries and spending more time with family and friends can also contribute to a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle. It’s also important to get enough sleep.