A healthy lifestyle typically goes hand in hand with a healthy heart, and it’s good to know that even small lifestyle improvements can potentially increase your heart health.
With a staggering 17,000,000 deaths worldwide annually from heart disease, it’s sad that up to 80% of these untimely deaths could actually be prevented. Heart disease is often silent and sneaks up unnoticed until the damage is suddenly all too obvious.
Heart attacks and heart disease will alter plans for your future in a big way, but if you take the time to learn and understand heart disease and its causes, you will know that you have a choice. Rather than sitting around and worrying about your future, you can work to actively decrease your risk of heart disease and heart attack by making changes that improve overall health.
Causes of Heart Disease
There isn’t anything much that’s new when it comes to research about heart disease. Atherosclerosis is the offender that creates a buildup of plaque in the lining of arteries. Over times, as the plaque hardens and narrows arteries, the blood flow to vitally important organs and tissues is reduced and at some point, the heart and blood vessels become damaged beyond repair.
Know the three lifestyle habits that are most responsible for atherosclerosis:
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
These habits, mixed with constant stress often equal heart disease. It’s good to know that some risk factors, e.g. age and genetics, aren’t within your control, but habits and daily lifestyle choices certainly are. You absolutely have the power to make healthy changes!
Takeaway tip: Learn about the causes of heart disease and know your own lifestyle choices that may be increasing the risk of heart problems. Once you know, you can make your plan for change.
How to Prevent Heart Problems
Diet. The human body craves fresh and nutritious food. Healthy food helps the body thrive in optimal health, but bad eating habits can clog arteries with plaque, create problems with high blood pressure, and raise our cholesterol levels beyond known healthy limits. If you fill yourself with healthy fats and consume smaller amounts of salt and sugar, your heart health is likely to improve.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean Diet are the two doctor-recommended eating plans for better heart health. They may be slightly different, but their foundations are similar.
Best diets for heart health encourage:
- Vegetables, including greens, broccoli, cabbage and carrots
- Colorful fruits, e.g. apples, berries, melons and oranges and citrus fruits
- Whole grains
- Quality proteins
- Coldwater fish
- Healthy fats, from nuts, seeds, and avocados
Whole foods that are rich with healthy nutrients will help you feel satiated and less hungry but when you do have cravings, you mustn’t give in to the foods or drinks heavy in salt, sugar, and alcohol.
Takeaway Tip: Select one nutritious food to add to your diet this week and eliminate one processed food at the same time. Yes, it’s possible to make both changes in one week! As an example, consider a bowl of fresh fruit in the morning instead of a sugar-filled blueberry muffin.
Get More Exercise. Additional physical activity boosts our heart health. Move around during the day as much as you can because it’s good to be active and it helps reduce the four most common risk factors for heart disease.
Increased exercise and activity:
- may decrease high cholesterol levels
- might lower blood pressure
- can help with weight loss
- lowers the likelihood of type 2 diabetes
You may be motivated to get more exercise knowing the above list. 180 minutes per week or at least 20 minutes per day is recommended by health experts, keeping your heartbeat elevated for at least 10 minutes at a time. Walking is the easiest exercise choice, but you might enjoy swimming, dancing, bicycling or weight lifting as your healthy choice instead.
Takeaway Tip: Add at least 5 more minutes of active movement to your day, even if you just turn on the music to enjoy some dancing in your bedroom! Small things do count, so walk a little faster when you go out to the mailbox!
Smoking. Stop smoking! Nicotine will reduce the size of blood vessels, which means that carbon monoxide will potentially destroy the insides of your heart vessels. Smoking creates a greater risk of heart disease for people. Yes, you know it will be a challenge trying to break the habit, but nonetheless, remember that it’s a lifestyle habit, which ultimately means it is a choice, within your control. It’s hard to quit… but it’s possible. People quit every day, so ask your doctor about cessation programs or products that might help.
Takeaway Tip: List your reasons to quit smoking and keep them top of mind. Maybe it’s so you can feel better, do more, or play with your grandkids? Decide on what motivates you, create a post-it note reminder, and place it where you’ll see it often.
Stress. High inflammation levels are created from prolonged stress, but you can reduce and manage this stress before arteries are damaged. Highly charged emotional situations often precede heart attacks, so get yourself in control! If drinking alcohol, smoking, and suppressed emotions are your best choices for reducing stress, better take advantage of alternate strategies for relieving stress.
- Talk to a mental health provider for new strategies
- Practice meditation
- Increase daily physical activity
- Release hurts and frustrations
- Enjoy your relationships with full intention
Life challenges aren’t always within our control, but our personal response is!
Takeaway Tip: How do you deal with stress? Are you ready for change? Make one simple new habit today. Write down five things you’re thankful for in the morning, or practice deep breathing when anxious feelings arise.
Learn everything you can about preventing of heart disease. Know and understand risk factors so you can make necessary lifestyle changes. Focus on what you’re willing to change. Take the time to consider the heart disease risks that would most likely affect you and take a simple step at a time because even one new healthy habit can make a difference!