By Dr. Kirsten O. Healy
In the United States, heart disease affects more that 9 million adults and is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women. More men and women die from heart disease than all cancers combined. But the good news is that research shows that up to 90 percent of heart disease can be prevented by changing one’s diet, exercising more and maintaining a healthy weight. Lifestyle changes are the cornerstone to a “heart healthy life.” As a cardiologist focusing on women’s health and the prevention of heart disease, I feel that teaching patients about their cardiovascular health is one of the most valuable contributions I can make toward successfully preventing the development of heart disease. Knowledge empowers patients so the first step to living a heart healthy life is to educate patients so they have the tools to make effective lifestyle changes. The following are seven things you can do to keep your heart beating strong for years to come.
- Know Your Risk
There are non-modifiable risk factors, like age and family history, for developing cardiovascular disease that you can’t change but other risk factors can be treated and controlled. Modifiable risk factors, like high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, lack of regular activity, obesity and diabetes, can be controlled and treated. Screen for these modifiable risk factors at a young age.
- Know Your Numbers
Knowing your numbers and understanding what they mean is important! This refers to understanding the key markers of heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that you be aware of five key numbers: Total cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). By keeping these numbers within a healthy range, you can greatly improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease.
- Eat Healthy
A heart healthy diet is one that is low in total fat, saturated fats and trans fats. All of these raise cholesterol levels.
Focus on a high fiber diet that contains nutrient-packed foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and legumes. Fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and helps you feel full so you are less likely to overeat.
Eat fish, like tuna or salmon, that are high in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week. There is a clear correlation between foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods lower blood cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Limit sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams a day.
Limit alcohol consumption, because too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and caloric intake. I recommend that women limit alcohol consumption to one glass per day and abstain from any alcohol at least two days per week.
- Exercise to Achieve a Healthy Heart
Be active! Inactivity is a major risk factor of heart disease, similar to smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. People who exercise regularly have a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. Exercise strengthens your heart muscle at the same time that it controls inflammation and helps keep weight, cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels.
The goal should be 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Fit it in where and when you can and never sit for too long at one time. A simple brisk walk before or after work is an excellent form of exercise. A small amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all.
- Trim Your Waistline
Obesity is an epidemic in this country. Being overweight can substantially increase your risk of heart disease. Multiple studies have shown that half of all fatal heart attack cases are linked to being overweight and having a high body mass index (BMI) or large waist. Fat around the waistline is bad for you because it is metabolically active and raises your blood pressure, lowers your HDL and increases your risk of diabetes. Ideally a woman’s waistline should be less than 29 inches and men ideally should have a waistline smaller than 35 inches.
- Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep is the cornerstone to keeping your heart healthy and is markedly underrated. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep most nights. The lack of sleep can substantially increase your cardiovascular risk. Multiple studies have supported that those who sleep fewer than six hours a night are at increased risk for developing a stroke or heart attack in comparison to those who sleep more than seven hours a night.
- Reduce Stress, Be Optimistic, Laugh
When your stress level goes up so does your risk of heart disease, and research suggests that emotional stress can be as detrimental to your heart as conventional risk factors. Negative emotions can cause the release of hormones, like cortisol, that can threaten your overall heart health. The good news is that stress can be addressed, combatted and significantly reduced in your life — you have to just believe that it is important enough to take action. Finally, laughter may be the best medicine and having a sense of humor is healthy. People who are optimistic and who are able to see that glass as half full live longer with less disease.
Avoid an all-or-nothing mentality. Stay positive and don’t get discouraged. Start slow but begin to make changes in your choices, your routine and your life today. Finally, believe in yourself and take care of your heart.
Source: Women’s Voices for Change | Not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide