10 Ways to Help Prevent Heart Disease
One person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it claims nearly 660,000 lives a year and accounts for 1 out of 4 deaths. Not only is heart disease a leading cause of death, but it’s also expensive, costing over $360 billion a year or $1 billion a day.
The American Heart Association estimates that by 2035, 45% of the adult U.S. population will be living with cardiovascular disease. Yet, 80% of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is preventable.
In this article, we’ll talk about some actions you can take to help prevent or reduce your risk of heart disease.
How can you keep your heart healthy?
Many things can increase your risk for heart disease. Some of these risk factors are out of your control. However, learning about them can help you understand your risk. If you are at high risk, you can take steps to lower your risk of coronary heart disease by doing things that you can control.
Some of the heart disease risk factors that you cannot change, include:
Age: The risk of heart disease is higher in older people. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 have a greater risk.
Gender: Heart disease affects men and women differently. For example, women are less likely to have a heart attack, but heart attacks tend to be more severe in women.
Race or Ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups are at a higher risk than others. American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans are at greater risk than Caucasians and Hispanics.
Family History: The risk of heart disease is higher in people who have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who had heart disease at an early age (before age 55).
So, does this mean that if you are a 50-year-old African-American man whose father had a heart attack at the age of 55, you are destined to have one too? Experts say no, that’s not true. While age, sex, race, and family history are significant risk factors, you can lower your chances of getting heart disease with lifestyle changes that affect other risk factors.
What are the 10 ways to prevent heart disease?
You can prevent heart disease by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are 10 steps you can take to practice healthy living that’s good for your heart.
Keep your blood pressure under control
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is often silent and does not cause any symptoms. That’s why it is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly (once a year for most adults, more often if you have high blood pressure). You can take steps to lower blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. If this doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe medication for high blood pressure.
Keep your cholesterol levels under control
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood can block your arteries and increase your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, can help bring your cholesterol numbers into the normal range. Your doctor can also prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medicine such as a statin.
Having diabetes doubles your risk of heart disease because, over time, high blood sugar damages your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. You should be screened for diabetes every 3 years, starting at age 45. Your doctor may recommend screening at an earlier age or more frequently, depending on your risk factors. If you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood glucose levels under control.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and diabetes, which are all major risk factors for heart disease. You can lower your risk of heart disease by staying at a healthy body weight. A body mass index (BMI) of 25-30 makes you overweight, and a BMI over 30 indicates you are obese. If you are carrying around excess weight, losing weight can help to lower your risk of heart disease.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Try to eat lots of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins like fish and poultry, low-fat dairy products, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. Limit saturated fats, trans fat, full-fat dairy products that are rich in saturated fat, fatty and marbled meats, fried foods, foods high in sodium, and foods that contain added sugars. This is called a DASH diet or eating plan, and it can help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, which are both risk factors for coronary heart disease. A Mediterranean diet is similarly healthy.
Get regular exercise
Exercise has multiple benefits. Staying physically active helps to strengthen your heart and improve your circulation. Regular exercise can help prevent weight gain, help you lose weight if you are overweight, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. As mentioned, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and being overweight or obese are risk factors for heart disease.
Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol can make you gain weight and raise your blood pressure, both of which can increase your risk of heart disease. If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. Men should limit alcohol intake to no more than two alcoholic beverages a day and women to no more than one per day.
People who smoke are 2-4 times more likely to get heart disease compared to non-smokers. Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke increases your blood pressure and puts you at a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. If you smoke, talk to your health professionals about ways to quit. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk for heart disease by half.
There are many links between stress and heart disease. Stress raises blood pressure, which is a heart disease risk factor. Extreme stress can trigger a heart attack. Also, common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking, put you at an increased risk of heart disease. If you struggle to manage stress with meditation, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle, seek help from a mental health professional.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity--all risks for heart disease. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. You should focus not only on the duration but also on the quality of your sleep. Make sure you have good sleep habits. If you have frequent awakenings or trouble breathing during sleep, talk to a healthcare provider. You may have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which interferes with your ability to breathe during sleep. It can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and increase your risk of heart disease. Your doctor may order a sleep study to diagnose this condition and prescribe treatment if you have sleep apnea.
As you can see, a heart healthy lifestyle requires you to pay attention to a few lifestyle factors - eating a heart healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking alcohol in moderation, stopping smoking, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. These easy to implement lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which in turn, can reduce your risk of heart disease.