When it comes to heart disease, there is good news. What is it? Cardiovascular disease is preventable. The bad news is that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. This raises an important question: why are so many people dying from a disease they can prevent? Why aren't people saving themselves?
So what factors put you at risk and how can you lower your likelihood of suffering this dangerous and deadly disease?
You probably know that smoking is associated with lung cancer and breathing problems. But cigarette smoking is also a leading cause of heart disease for both women and men. Smoking causes coronary heart disease, decreases the amount of oxygen to your heart, increases blood clotting, increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and damages the cells in your arteries and blood vessels - all which increase your risk for heart attack. If you smoke one pack of cigarettes a day, your risk of heart attack is twice that of a nonsmoker. But remember, secondhand smoke is dangerous as well. Children and adults exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk for heart disease, cancers, and respiratory problems.
The good news is that if you quit smoking, after one year your risk of heart disease is cut in half. And after you've been smoke-free for 15 years, your risk level is like that of someone who's never smoked.
A second risk factor that you can eliminate is lack of exercise. An inactive lifestyle is just asking for heart disease. Regular exercise, including aerobic exercise, has the following benefits for your heart and the rest of your body:
Trying to figure out how much exercise to get? Shoot for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times each week. Having a hard time getting in that much? Remember that any little bit helps.
A healthy heart starts with a healthy diet. What will such a diet do for your heart? It will lower four things: your LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and body weight.
What should you include in a nutritious heart-healthy diet? Some of the most powerful weapons against heart disease are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Second, instead of red meats, eat more fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Third, reduce your consumption of salt, limit your fat intake, and avoid saturated and trans fats (butter, sweets, fried foods, salad dressings, etc.) as much as possible. Small amounts of monounsaturated fats (olive oil and peanut oil) are okay, but don't go overboard. Lastly, limit the amount of cholesterol you consume.
For a few other heart-healthy diet tips, eat a variety of healthy foods, don't skip meals, and prepare home-cooked meals as often as possible.
There are normal, healthy levels of stress and there are abnormal, unhealthy levels of stress. Among other health symptoms, long-term stress or repeated short-term stress is linked to abnormal heart rate (arrhythmia), blood clots, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and heart attack. If you already have symptoms of heart disease, stress will only make them worse. To manage the stresses in your life, determine the reason for your stress, try to reduce the amount of stress, and practice healthy ways to relieve the stress.