Making Changes to Prevent Heart Disease
Your heart is a vital organ that keeps your body functioning. But many people don't
treat it that way. They may not realize that their daily habits and lifestyle can
overwork and damage their hearts. So, take care of your heart and yourself. Start
by making these lifestyle changes.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Nicotine causes blood vessels to
tighten and narrow. This makes it hard for blood to reach your heart muscle and temporarily
raises blood pressure. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke lessens the amount of
oxygen that gets to the heart. That's why smokers have twice the risk for heart attacks
compared with nonsmokers. So if you smoke, think about quitting. Talk with your healthcare
provider about ways to quit. Medicines and nicotine replacements can help. And try
to stay away from secondhand smoke. It's also bad for your heart.
Eat heart-friendly foods
Eating fatty foods plays a part in the buildup of fat in your arteries. This can lead
to blocked arteries of your heart and increases the risk for a heart attack. Limit
fatty meats, whole-milk products, and fried foods. Instead, choose nonfat milk or
low-fat dairy products. Also choose healthier cooking oils made with unsaturated fats,
such as canola, avocado, grapeseed, corn, and olive oils. But since they are fat,
use them in limited amounts. Also try to eat 2 cups of fruit, whole-grain and high-fiber
foods, and 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. They're good for you, and they fill you
Set exercise goals
Exercise gets your heart pumping. This helps your body use oxygen better and makes
your heart stronger. It can also decrease your blood pressure and the amount of fat
in your blood. Start your exercise program slowly, especially if you haven't been
active for a while. Start with short sessions, such as 10-minute walks. Gradually
increase the length of your workouts to at least 30 to 40 minutes, 4 to 5 days a week.
Experts recommend getting at least 2.5hours of moderate physical activity per week
for substantial health benefits. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting
or changing an exercise program.
Watch your blood pressure
Make sure your blood pressure is in the healthy range or under control. Normal blood
pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure is the force against the walls of
your blood vessels as blood flows through them. The harder your heart works, the greater
your risk for having a heart attack. Making smart lifestyle choices such as eating
a diet low in sodium, exercising regularly, staying away from tobacco, reducing stress,
and limiting alcohol will decrease your risk of getting high blood pressure.
Watch your weight
The American Heart Association (AHA) considers overweight and obesity to be major
risk factors for heart disease. If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease
your risk. Reaching or maintaining an ideal weight also helps lower your blood pressure
and cholesterol levels. When your weight is in the ideal range, your body works more
efficiently. And, you are less likely to develop conditions like diabetes, heart disease,
osteoarthritis, certain cancers, and sleep apnea.
Continued and high stress has been consistently linked to health problems. These include
an increased risk for heart disease and cardiac death or death from heart disease.
Anger is tightly linked with risk for cardiac death. Common ways of dealing with stress,
such as overeating and smoking, can further harm your heart. Try to keep your stress
low by exercising, sharing your concerns with friends and family, and making some
quiet time for yourself each day. Spending 15 to 20 minutes every day doing something
you enjoy is a simple but effective step toward a less stressful life.
The AHA recommends regular screening for your risk for heart disease starting at age
20. Screening includes measuring blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and
pulse each regular healthcare visit or at least every 2 years. Getting a cholesterol
test every 5 years for normal-risk people is also recommended.
Maintain a healthy cholesterol level
An important fact to know about cholesterol is having high levels in your blood can
begin early in life and continue throughout your lifetime. This can increase your
lifetime risk of developing conditions such as a heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol
is one of the major risk factors for these conditions. When blood cholesterol is high,
it forms plaque and causes inflammation. The plaque builds up in the walls of your
arteries. This narrows the opening for blood flow. Over time, the heart and brain
may not get enough oxygen. This can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack,
or stroke. If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your healthcare provider
will help you with steps to take to lower your levels.
Healthy eating, regular exercise, weight management, and quitting smoking are good
steps toward keeping your cholesterol down. These things can also lower your risk
for heart attack and stroke. Your provider may also prescribe medicine to lower bad
cholesterol levels. If your healthcare provider prescribes medicine, be sure to take
it exactly as directed.