Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Take steps today to reduce your risk of heart disease. To help prevent heart disease, you can:
- Eat healthy
- Get active
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
- Manage stress.
Am I at risk for heart disease?
All people are at risk of heart disease. But you have an increased risk of heart disease if:
- You have high cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Are overweight or obese
- Do not do enough physical activity
- Don’t eat a healthy diet
Your age and family history also affect your risk of heart disease. Your risk is higher if:
- You are a woman over 55 years old
- You are a man over 45 years old
- Your father or brother had heart disease before the age of 55.
- Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65.
But the good news is that there are many things you can do to prevent heart disease. Keeping your heart healthy is simple when you look at the big picture – exercise. Eat well. Stress less. Take care of your weight. Do not smoke
Putting those goals into action, of course, is not that simple. Which is more important? How can you put them into practice on a daily basis? Here are practical tips for a lifestyle that makes you feel good while strengthening your heart.
Make time to play
Adults need at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days a week for heart health. Exercise to play and you are more likely to do so. Play kickball with your kids, walk the dog, play hoop, or go for a walk to the mall with your coworkers at lunchtime.
Get a total of at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and break it up, if you like. Aim for a 10-minute morning walk, exercise with hand weights at lunch, and dig in the garden before dinner, and you’ve reached your goals.
“People should increase their heart rate to catch their breath, but still be able to have a conversation,” says Susan Moores, RD, MS, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. All types of exercises are important, from strength training and aerobics, to flexibility and stretching exercises.
Add the ‘Food Rules’ to your memory
Limit Bad Fats: If you eat a typical American diet, this change can bring dramatic results: Eat less saturated fat. It can “cut the risk of heart problems in half,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. Start by switching to low-fat meat and dairy, and switch to healthier fats like olive and canola oils.
Cut the salt: cook without salt, limit processed foods and make it easy with the salt shaker. Try to reduce the sodium you eat to 1,500 milligrams, the American Heart Association daily limit.
Pump Up Produce: Eat at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruit every day. It will reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. And there’s an added bonus to losing weight: “For all the nutrients fruits and vegetables provide, you also get few calories,” says Kerry Neville, MS, RD, “and they fill you up.”
Choose grains: whole grains help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and can help prevent type 2 diabetes. Think corn tortillas, pancakes and whole wheat pasta, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, Quinoa and the delicious chewy brown rice or wild rice.
Doing absolutely nothing can be an important part of keeping your heart healthy. Be sure to “relax and disconnect every day,” says Moores. “Stress is a major villain of heart health and really any health problem. It can wreak havoc.” Take time for yourself regularly. Stay away from the computer, phone, and other distractions. Take the time to recharge your batteries, find energy and calm down.
Work towards a healthy body weight
Weight gain is a constant threat to most Americans in our world of cheap, convenient, and decadent food. And extra pounds, especially if you fall into obesity, increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Now the good news: Losing even a few pounds takes you on the path to a healthier heart. Lose a little more and you will probably have more energy and sleep better too. Here are the basics:
Choose good nutrition: Choose nutrient-dense foods, not just empty calories. A regular can of cola has more than 120 calories and a large amount of added sugar. Added sugar can give you a lot of empty calories without many nutritional benefits. For a nutrient-packed snack that’s worth the calories, try a clap of mixed nuts. It has approximately 165 calories and is packed with heart-healthy fats and protein.
Balance Calories: Consider the balance between the calories you eat and the calories your body needs. To lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn.
Get fit: Get moving at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Children and teens need at least 60 minutes of activity each day.
Find your best personal way to quit smoking
Cancer, lung disease, an increased chance of a heart attack – the damage smoking can cause is well known. Did you know that tobacco is also associated with early menopause, infertility, and pregnancy complications? There is no better way to quit smoking. Medications, support groups, counseling, or a combination of all three may be what is needed to help you quit smoking. Get in touch, get help.
Regular checks of blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, as well as physical exams, are important to keep your heart healthy. Two conditions that can harm your heart (high blood pressure and high cholesterol) are “silent.” That means you usually won’t know you have them unless you get tested. Ask your doctor how often you need a cardiac checkup and put the next one on your calendar now.