Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and while there are risk factors such as family history, age, gender, race, and ethnicity that you cannot change, a damaged heart does not have to be your fate.
The old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, guides our lifestyle choices. By assessing the risk factors you can alter such as smoking, diet, and exercise you can live a life free of heart disease.
Your road to a healthy heart begins with small steps. Diet, exercise, alcohol, stress, and smoking are lifestyle choices you can control. Healthy choices accumulate on a daily basis, and while genetics may throw you an unexpected curve ball, each positive action you take reduces your risk of developing heart disease.
Make a commitment to building a healthy heart for life by:
- enrolling in a smoking cessation support group
- making a commitment to yourself to make exercise a part of your routine
- walking to work or in the evenings after work
- packing a healthy lunch instead of zipping through the fast food lane
- spending time on a hobby rather than turning on the television
A healthy lifestyle is not built overnight. Make a commitment to integrating small, positive steps into your everyday routine. Your heart is counting on you.
Quitting smoking is the single most powerful, preventable risk factor for heart disease. Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pipes, cigars, and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes are all unsafe, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals that damage your heart and arteries. Narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), increased blood pressure, and heart disease are caused by the use of tobacco.
The risk of a heart attack or stroke for women over the age of 35, and who take birth control pills, jumps substantially by smoking.
Even if you have been a lifelong smoker, the good news is that by quitting, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within the first year.
Diet and Nutrition
Following a heart healthy diet does not have to become a time management problem for you. Eating with your heart health in mind only takes a little planning.Healthy nutrition comes from eating foods that provide the nutrients our body needs in order to maintain good health, and a limiting others that are harmful, such as sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, salt and preservatives.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
- Start with a goal of adding one more fruit and vegetable serving to your daily diet.
- Limit your intake of saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat found in deep-fried fast foods, beef, butter, cheese, milk, and coconut and palm oils.
- Drink alcohol in moderation – no more than two drinks a day for men, one a day for women.
- Add Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet found in some fish. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and can also be found in supplements.
- Drink plenty of fluids each day, particularly water, and limit sugar-sweetened drinks
Staying motivated is the hardest part of exercise. Finding the time to exercise can also be a challenge in overscheduled lives. But did you know that even 30 minutes of exercise combined with other lifestyle measures, like eating a heart healthy diet and avoiding tobacco, can reduce your risk of heart disease by nearly 25%?Winded after walking a block? Overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities? Having trouble sleeping? Exercise to the rescue! Even a small amount of daily physical activity:
- Increases blood flow to your heart and strengthens your heart’s contractions so it can pump more blood with less effort.
- Manages your weight and reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes and certain types of cancer
- Controls stress and improves your mood by stimulating brain chemicals that leave your feeling happier and more relaxed.
- Relieves feelings of depression and anxiety
- Promotes better sleep patterns by deepening your sleep and helping you fall asleep faster
Exercise doesnt have to be a headache or a time bandit. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk during your lunch break. If you like to garden, spend a few hours digging. Toss a football with your children. Find a few minutes a day and an activity you enjoy doing. If you get bored, change your activity!
Whatever you do, do not throw in the towel unless it is into the laundry bin! Get your body moving! Your heart will reward you by beating stronger every day.
- Mridula Rai, MD, FACC
- Brad Gwyther, MS, PA-C
- Mark Zolnick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
- Mark Bieniarz, MD, FACC, FSCAI
- Brendan J. Cavanaugh, MD, FACC & NMHI CMO
- Brad Stamm, MD, FACC
- Charles Kim, MD, FACC
- Karen Sopko, MD, FACC
- Geoffrey A. Kunz, MD, FACC
- Erin Schultz, PA-C, PhD
- Mel Peralta, MD, FACC
- Howard Diaz, PA-C, MPAS
- Geri Vigil-Bartels, CNP
- Sharon Schaaf, DNP
- Michele Head, ACNP-BC, MSN