According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the number-one cause of death among men and women in the United States, killing an average of 610,000 people and causing 735,000 heart attacks each year. As such, it’s crucial that Americans adopt various preventative measures to reduce their risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) has outlined the following actions individuals of all ages can undertake in order to maintain a healthy heart and prolong their life:
Maintain an Active Lifestyle.
A lack of regular exercise contributes to the death of an estimated 250,000 Americans per year, therefore it’s important to engage in some form of physical activity every day. You don’t have to be lifting weights in the gym or running miles outdoors either. The AHA recommends 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Although playing a sport or taking up running are great ways to ensure you get the required amount of exercise, you can reduce your risk of heart disease simply by starting a walking program or riding a bicycle.
While it’s helpful to start being physically active from a young age to establish a habit, it’s never too late to being exercising regularly. A study published in the journal Circulation found that it can take as few as six years for middle-age people to experience a 23 percent reduction in risk of heart failure after increasing their physical activity to AHA-recommended levels. Study participants who said they met the recommended physical activity levels experienced a 31 percent decrease in potential for heart risk failure, whereas those who reported a decrease in physical activity experienced an 18 percent increase in heart failure risk.
Eat a Balanced and Healthy Diet.
In addition to influencing your weight, the food you eat can affect your chances of experiencing heart disease. The AHA suggests adopting a healthy eating plan as early in life as possible and, while it recommends eating a high volume of fruits and vegetables, you don’t have to become a vegetarian. Instead, try eating lean cuts when you do eat meat, and consume at least one meatless meal per week. “Going meatless is as simple as moving vegetables and fruits from a side dish to a starring role,” notes Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont nutrition professor. “You should also seek out high-fiber whole grains, beans and legumes, unsalted nuts, and lower fat and fat-free dairy foods. These tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important phytonutrients.”
If cutting back on meat sounds like too tall an order, consider eating more skinless chicken and omega-3-rich fish instead of pork and beef. You should also limit your portion size to six ounces and remove all visible fat.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart health and one of the most preventable causes of early death in the United States. In addition to putting you at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), which can lead to a stroke or coronary heart disease, it has a negative impact on other risk factors. For instance, smoking regularly can decrease your HDL (good) cholesterol as well as your tolerance for physical activity. Moreover, if you already have a family history of heart disease, smoking can exacerbate your risk level. Even being around someone who smokes can increase your risk of heart disease; a US Surgeon General report found that the risk of lung cancer or heart disease for nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work rises by as much as 30 percent.
Manage Stress Levels.
You can avoid smoking, maintain a healthy diet, and exercise regularly, but you’ll still be at risk of heart disease if you allow stress to control your life. A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that work-related pressure is associated with a 48 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation, which can lead to dementia, stroke, or heart failure, and manifests through symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, palpitations, or dizziness. “People who feel stressed at work and have palpitations or other symptoms of atrial fibrillation should see their doctor and speak to their employer about improving the situation at work,” says Eleonor Fransson, one of the authors of the study.
If you’re unwilling or unable to find a more suitable job or work environment, there are several things you can do outside of work to reduce your stress level. In addition to the following the aforementioned three recommendations, consider cutting back on coffee consumption or making a habit to perform relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or even deep breathing. Getting enough sleep is also an excellent way to lower your risk of heart disease and, in that regard, the AHA suggests aiming for between seven and eight hours per night.
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