Heart Health: Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, it’s estimated that 85% of Americans die from some form of heart disease, and a large percentage of them don’t even know it. The good news is that you can help prevent and reduce your risk for heart disease by making healthy lifestyle choices and getting regular health screenings. Here are some ways to do just that:
Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Smoking increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. It can cause blood clots that lead to heart attack or stroke. It can also damage the blood vessels in your heart.
If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit. Quitting smoking at any age will improve your health and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease—and quitting at an older age has added benefits for reducing your risk of having a heart attack or dying from lung cancer
Exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to prevent cardiovascular disease. And the good news is that you don’t have to run marathons or spend hours at the gym; just walking regularly can make a big difference.
For starters, studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise—which includes activities like brisk walking, jogging, and cycling—can reduce blood pressure by about 5 mmHg or more in people with high blood pressure. This can help prevent strokes and heart attacks. It also helps prevent coronary heart disease (CHD) by improving your body’s ability to use glucose (blood sugar) as fuel for energy instead of storing it as fat in the body’s cells, where it can cause damage over time.
Regular aerobic exercise may also lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels slightly, which reduces your risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening) in major arteries throughout your body and helps keep these arteries clear after they’ve narrowed due to plaque buildup over time.
Eat a healthy diet.
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Eat foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat.
- Eat lean meats, poultry, and fish.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Try to eat five or more servings every day!
- Limit processed foods, fast food, sweets, salty snacks, soda pop, and alcohol intake.
Maintain a healthy weight.
As a general rule, maintaining a healthy weight is always the healthiest option. If you have existing heart disease, losing weight can help slow down the progression of your condition and reduce your risk of developing additional health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. However, it is not recommended for individuals who do not have heart disease yet—and especially not for those who are already at an ideal weight (which ranges from 5’4″ to 6’4″).
Get enough sleep.
A good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy heart. Sleep deprivation can cause heart attacks and strokes, increase blood pressure and weight gain, and make it difficult to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
Sleep apnea is a condition in which someone has trouble breathing while sleeping. People with sleep apnea may stop breathing for up to 20 seconds at a time when they’re asleep—this is called an apneic event—and then gasp or snore loudly as they try to breathe again. Repeated interruptions in breathing deprive the brain of oxygen, which can lead to changes in blood pressure that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you think you might have sleep apnea or another condition causing disrupted sleep, talk with your doctor about treatment options that might include surgery or wearing special masks during the night (called continuous positive airway pressure therapy).
Get regular health screenings.
This is a good time to get in the habit of getting regular health screenings. Regular physical exams, blood pressure checks and cholesterol tests can help detect early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Your doctor should also check your blood sugar levels on a regular basis if you have prediabetes or diabetes.
You can take steps to protect yourself from developing cardiovascular disease, even if you are at risk. The best way to prevent this condition is by following a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight as well as getting enough sleep and regular checkups with your doctor.