You can prevent heart disease by following a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Here are five strategies to help you protect your heart.
disease may be the leading cause of death for both men and women, but that doesn't
mean you have to accept it as your fate. Although you lack the power to change
some risk factors — such as family history or age — there are some key heart
disease prevention steps you can take, according to the Mercy Heart Center,
Siouxland’s leading provider of cardiovascular care.
steps to avoid heart disease — don't smoke, get regular exercise and eat
healthy foods. Avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy
lifestyle today. Here are five heart disease prevention tips to get you
1. Don't smoke or use tobacco products
or using other tobacco products is one of the most significant risk factors for
developing heart disease.Doctors
at Mercy say when it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is
safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky,
as is exposure to secondhand smoke.
smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals. Many of these can damage your heart
and blood vessels, making them more vulnerable to narrowing of the arteries
(atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
addition, the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder by
narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood.
This increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder to
supply enough oxygen. Even so-called "social smoking" — only smoking
while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk
of heart disease.
who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart
attack or stroke than are those who don't do either. Worse, this risk increases
with age, especially over 35.
good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease
drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you
smoked, you'll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
2. Get active
participating in moderately vigorous physical activity can reduce your risk of
fatal heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other
lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even
Heart Center doctors say physical activity helps you control your weight and
can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on
your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also
reduces stress, which may also be a factor in heart disease.
recommend that you get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical
activity most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer
heart benefits, so if you can't meet those guidelines, don't give up. You can
even break up your workout time into 10-minute sessions and still get the same
remember that things like gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and
walking the dog all count toward your total. You don't have to exercise
strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing
the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating
plan also can help protect your heart. Following the DASH diet means eating
foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt. The diet is rich in fruits,
vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that can help protect your
heart. Legumes, low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can
reduce your risk of heart disease.
certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated,
polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — saturated fat and trans fat
increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol
levels. Major sources of saturated fat include beef, butter, cheese, milk, and
coconut and palm oils. There's growing evidence that trans fat may be worse
than saturated fat because unlike saturated fat, it both raises your
low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol, and lowers your
high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol. Sources of
trans fat include some deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack
foods, margarines and crackers. Look at the label for the term "partially
hydrogenated" to avoid trans fat.
eating isn't all about cutting back, though. Most people, for instance, need to
add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10
servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help
prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer.
fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart
attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some
fish are a good natural source of omega-3s. However, pregnant women and women
of childbearing age should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish
because they contain levels of mercury high enough to pose a danger to a
developing fetus. But for most others, the health benefits of fish outweigh any
risks associated with mercury. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in
flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be
found in supplements.
a heart-healthy diet also means drinking alcohol only in moderation — no more
than two drinks a day for men, one a day for women. At that moderate level,
alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart. Above that, it becomes a
4. Maintain a healthy weight
you put on weight in adulthood, your weight gain is mostly fat rather than
muscle. Mercy physicians say this excess weight can lead to conditions that
increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol
way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index
(BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a
healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat.
numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood
pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
BMI is a good but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance,
and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs
without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference is also a
useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have. In general, men are
considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches
(101.6 centimeters, or cm). And women, in general, are overweight if their
waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).
small reductions in weight can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 10
percent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level
and reduce your risk of diabetes.
5. Get regular health screenings
blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels.
But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these
conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether
you need to take action, according to physicians at the Mercy Heart Center.
pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings
start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least
every two years. You may need more frequent checks if your numbers aren't
optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood
pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
levels. Adults should have their cholesterol
measured at least once every five years. You may need more frequent testing if
your numbers aren't optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart
disease. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a
strong family history of heart disease.
disease is often avoidable. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle doesn't have to
be complicated. Find ways to include heart-healthy habits into your lifestyle —
and you may well enjoy a healthier life for years to come.