Lifestyle Changes Can Protect Your Heart There are many risk factors for heart disease; making healthy choices can help you lower your manageable risks for heart disease. Here’s what you can do.
While heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, a healthy heart is often within your control. Certain risk factors for heart disease can’t be changed: age and family history. But you can help limit your hereditary risks and minimize other risk factors for heart disease by making good lifestyle choices. Every action you take to protect your heart will boost your overall health as well! Here’s how to begin:
Become physically active. Research has shown that at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. Something IS better than nothing so, if you are inactive now, start out slow. Even a few minutes at a time may offer some health benefits. Studies show that people who achieve even a moderate level of fitness are much less likely to die early than those with a low fitness level. The American Heart Association recommends being active EVERY day.
Kick the habit. Smoking cigarettes is tied to many fatal health problems including cancer, lung disease, stroke and heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even if you have no other risk factors, smoking raises your risk of developing heart disease by two to four times. If you smoke talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs or aids.
Manage your stress. Some have noted, a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person’s life. For example, people under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they would otherwise. There are several ways to manage your stress from exercise to a spiritual practice or meditation. In fact, a study presented at an American Heart Association conference found that people with heart disease who meditated had nearly 50 percent fewer rates of stroke, heart attack and death compared to those who did not meditate.
Aim for a healthy weight. Weight extremes can increase your risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the most common cause of death for people with severe anorexia and at the other extreme, obesity can increase the risk for heart disease – even if you have no other risk factors. Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and physical activity are the only ways to obtain and maintain a healthy weight. According to the American Heart Association, obesity places you at the risk for the many of the factors that heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease: high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which is a precursor of type 2 diabetes.
Choose good nutrition. A healthy diet is one of the best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. It is important to choose nutrient-rich foods, which are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients and low in calories. A rainbow of fruits and vegetables is rich in nutrients; each color represents different antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Remember, the food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and weight.
Lower high blood pressure. Approximately one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure and many are not aware of it. Because there aren’t any symptoms, uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the most deceptive risk factors for heart disease.
Manage high blood cholesterol. Fat lodged in your arteries is a disaster waiting to happen in triggering a heart attack or stroke. Reducing your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and getting more physically active should help in bringing the scores (total cholesterol, Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL), High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) and Triglycerides) down.
Manage your diabetes. At least 68 percent of people over the age of 65 years of age with diabetes die of some form of heart disease; 16 percent die of stroke. If you have diabetes other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity greatly increases your risk for developing a cardiovascular disease.
Your lifestyle is not only your best defense against heart disease and stroke, it is also the one, sometimes only, way you can have control in your health and wellness. By following the steps listed above you can reduce all the modifiable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. If you are having difficulty managing any of the above lifestyle behaviors, talk to your doctor. There are many resources that can help – you do not have to do all of this on your own.