Elderly Carmel resident getting his heart checked by a doctor.

Practical ways for decreasing risk of heart disease

A healthy lifestyle correlates with a strong and healthy heart. Therefore, if you make even small improvements in lifestyle, chances are you will increase your heart health.

There are a staggering 17,000,000 deaths worldwide each year as a result of heart disease. Yet, up to 80% of these sad and untimely deaths may be prevented. Symptoms of heart disease often sneak up quietly and unnoticed before the damage is realized.

Heart attacks and other heart disease symptoms can certainly alter your plans for the future. You may choose to remain ignorant or you can take the time to learn more about heart disease. Then, once you learn about it and understand what you can do to prevent it, you have another choice. Sit around and worry about what might happen to you or do the work to prevent it and actively decrease your risk of heart disease by making necessary changes to improve your overall health.

 

Causes of Poor Heart Health

Though humans have been studying heart health for many years, there aren’t really any new surprises on the causes of heart disease. Atherosclerosis is still the worst offender, as it is a buildup of plaque in the lining of arteries. The plaque hardens and narrows the arteries over time, decreasing the blood flow to organs and tissues that are vitally important. Eventually, the heart and blood vessels have become damaged.

Three lifestyle habits are responsible for atherosclerosis:

  • Poor diet choices
  • Not enough exercise
  • Smoking

These three bad habits, along with a big dose of stress can equal heart disease. The good news is that some risk factors, like age and genetics, may not be in your control, but lifestyle habits and daily choices are, and you DO have the power to make healthy changes!

Takeaway tip: Understand the causes of heart disease. Understand your own personal behaviors that could increase your own risk of heart problems. Then, make a plan for change.

 

How to Prevent Heart Problems

Diet

The human body thrives on fresh and nutritious food. Healthy food primes your body for achieving optimal health. Alternately, poor eating habits can slow you down, clogging arteries with plaque, creating high blood pressure problems, and raising cholesterol levels beyond healthy limits, as well. Pack your diet with healthy fats, and use less salt and sugar to improve better heart health.

Doctor-recommended food plans for better heart health are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan3 and the Mediterranean Diet. They’re slightly different, yet their foundations are similar.

Best diets for heart health always encourage:

  • Vegetables, especially greens, broccoli, cabbage and carrots
  • Colorful fruits like apples, berries, melons and oranges and citrus fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Quality proteins
  • Coldwater fish
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats (nuts, seeds and avocado)

Nutrient dense whole foods will help you feel satiated. If you find yourself with cravings, don’t give in to foods or drinks heavy in salt, sugar and alcohol.

Takeaway Tip: Select one nutrient dense whole food to add into your diet this week. At the same time, choose one processed food you will eliminate or at least cut back on eating. It’s feasible to make both changes at one time! For example, maybe you will start eating a bowl of fresh fruit for breakfast instead of a blueberry muffin filled with sugar.

 

Get More Exercise

Physical activity can help us stay healthy. Get up and move around during the day as much as possible. It’s good for us and it helps to lessen four common risk factors for heart disease.

Increased exercise:

  • may decrease high cholesterol levels
  • can lower blood pressure
  • helps with weight loss
  • lowers the likelihood of type 2 diabetes

Once you know this, you may feel motivated to get more exercise. Two and a half hours per week or just 20 minutes per day is typically recommended by experts. Your heartbeat should be elevated for at least 10 minutes at a time. Of course, an easy exercise is walking, but swimming, dancing, bicycling and weight lifting are healthy choices, too.

Takeaway Tip: Try adding at least 5 minutes of additional activity to your day at first. Turn on the music and enjoy some dancing in your own living room! Little things count, too. Even when you go out to the mailbox, walk a little faster!

 

Smoking

Just stop! Do it for your heart! Nicotine reduces the size of blood vessels. That allows your carbon monoxide to effectively destroy the insides of the heart vessels. Smoking creates a steeper risk of heart disease for people.4

Sure, it’s a challenge to break the habit, but still, it’s a habit, which means it is a lifestyle choice. In other words, it’s all within your control. Of course, it’s hard to quit… but still, it’s possible to do, and many people do quit every day. Ask your doctor about programs or products that could potentially help with cessation.

Takeaway Tip: Understand your reasons for wanting to quit smoking. Maybe you want to stop so you can generally feel better, or maybe to play more with your grandkids? Decide on what best motivates you, then create a post-it note reminder where you’ll see it often.

 

Stress

High levels of body inflammation are created from prolonged stress. You can reduce and manage stress before your arteries become damaged. Research proves that highly charged emotional situations often precede heart attacks! If coping with stress means that you’ll drink more alcohol, smoke, suppress emotions and make poor food choices, take advantage of some better strategies for relieving stress.

Try:

  • Talking to a mental health provider for new coping strategies
  • Practicing meditation
  • Increasing daily physical activity
  • Releasing hurts and frustrations
  • Enjoying your relationships with full intention

Sometimes, life’s challenges aren’t within our control, but our response is within our control.

Takeaway Tip: How do you deal with life’s stressors? Feel ready to make some changes? Try making one sweet and simple new habit, like writing down five things you’re thankful for when you awake, or practice 30 seconds of deep breathing if anxious feelings arise.

 

Learn all you can about prevention of heart disease. Understand your own risk factors. Know what you’re up against if you don’t make necessary lifestyle changes, then focus on something you’re willing to change. Take a moment to think about heart disease risks that are most likely to affect you. Then, take one simple step at a time. Even one healthy new habit can make a difference!