You probably know someone who has been affected by heart disease. In fact, you’ve likely experienced a loss due to this chronic condition, as it is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Heart disease can affect anyone, but we all can take steps to lower our risks. The good news is that many of the factors in being heart healthy are good practices for your overall health.
Heart disease spans a number of conditions, but most often refers to coronary artery disease, which occurs when the arteries to the heart are narrowed or blocked. This narrowing can be caused by:
- Too much fat and cholesterol in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Too much sugar in the blood (diabetes)
How can you lower your risk?
Heart disease risk increases with age. However, you can lower your risks with these eight steps to prevent heart disease:
- Eat healthy. While there are a number of approaches to heart-healthy eating, most include: Vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes, lean meats and fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet are two good choices. You should limit your use of salt, sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, saturated fat (like those in red meat and full-dairy foods) and trans fat (found in fried fast food, chips and baked goods).
- Get active. According to the Mayo Clinic, consistent physical activity helps you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as running).
- Stay at a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight is hard on your heart; however, even losing 5 percent can make a difference. Especially pay attention to extra weight around your waist. Your risk of heart disease is higher if your waist measurement is greater than 40 inches for a man and 35 inches for a woman.
- Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Chemicals in tobacco products can damage your heart and blood vessels, and cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in your blood. The good news: just a day after quitting smoking your risk of heart disease begins to lower.
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting your cholesterol checked at least every four to six years, and more often if risk factors are present. Also, get your blood pressure regularly checked, as high blood pressure has no symptoms.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation. Limit your consumption to no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.
- Manage stress. Assess the stressors in your life and set healthy boundaries. Get enough sleep and exercise regularly. Deep breathing, meditation and prayer are also helpful practices.
- Get enough sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Create a consistent sleep schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
Heart healthy as you age
The American Heart Association encourages everyone to be heart healthy, no matter their age. They offer these tips especially for older Americans (60+):
- Have an ankle-brachial index test. This test helps to diagnose peripheral artery disease (PAD), in which plaque builds up in the leg arteries.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Quick treatment can save your life.