Stop Heart Disease Before it Starts
The mortality rate from both heart disease and stroke have decreased significantly in the past decade, but they remain the #1 and #4 causes of death in this country, respectively. Still, there’s plenty of good news. With some simple changes in your lifestyle, you can significantly reduce your risks.
“Even modest improvements can make a big difference,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, of Cardiovascular Medicine.
Number 1: Quit Smoking!
Smoking is not good for you, period. It harms nearly every organ in the body but is especially damaging to the circulatory system. “Smoking substantially raises the risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots,” Jessup said. “These, in turn, increase your risks for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease, not to mention the risk of cancer.”
The benefits of not smoking begin almost immediately. Within 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your blood pressure goes down. And, within only one day, your risk of having a heart attack starts to decrease. “Stop smoking for 10 years and it’s as if you never smoked at all, with respect to your risk of developing heart disease.”
Number 2: Manage Your Blood Pressure
Hypertension –- or high blood pressure -- ranks as a significant risk for developing heart disease. This is often called the ‘silent killer’ because it has no symptoms. An estimated one in three adults has high blood pressure but doesn’t know it.
A ‘normal’ blood pressure is anything lower than 120/80 and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases progressively above that value. “Small decreases in high blood pressure can translate into a huge reduction in the risk of stroke,” she said.
Staying at a healthy weight can help control blood pressure but keep an eye on your waistline as well. Too much weight around your waist increases blood pressure. In general, men with a waist measurement greater than 40 inches and women with a waist greater than 35 inches are at higher risk.
Number 3: Eat a Healthier Diet
Eating a healthy diet is another way to keep your blood pressure low … and help your heart. Think of it this way: Would you put crude oil in your gas tank? Feeding your body with a diet limited to fried foods, red meat, and junk food is just as bad.
A healthy diet contains whole grain fiber, lean protein (ie, poultry and fish), and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to controlling blood pressure, a healthier diet will also help you lower cholesterol and blood sugar, two other risk factors for heart disease. “It’s one of the best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease,” Jessup said. “Many studies have shown the strong link between a heart healthy diet and a life free of cardiovascular disease.”
Low sodium intake is also part of a healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting salt to no more than 1,500 mg a day for all Americans.
This is why eating fresh foods is so important: just one serving of a canned chicken noodle soup may contain over 1,000 mg of sodium! But not all brands of the same food are created equal. Sodium levels for chicken noodle soup can start under 200 mg. Become an informed consumer. Always check labels of different brands before you choose.
“Even a small reduction in the sodium intake can reduce blood pressure,” Jessup said.
4. Get –and Stay -- Active
Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, five times per week, will lower your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Walking is one of the best ways to get started. It requires no special equipment, aside from a pair of good, supportive shoes.
To make it count, walk fast enough to keep your heart rate up but not so fast that you can’t speak. “There are many inexpensive pedometers on the market now as well as fitness apps for your smart phone to keep you motivated.”