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.
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.
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!
Exercise doesn’t have to be a headache. 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!