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No question, your heart plays a vital role in your everyday life and health, so it may come as no surprise when you are told to take care of it. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women of most racial and ethnic groups. Infact, one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from a cardiovascular disease, meaning about 655,000 Americans die from heart diseases each year – that is 1 in every 4.
You might not give it much thought throughout the day, but your heart is working around the clock for you. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body because it pumps blood and oxygen to all of your organs. When your heart does not get the care it needs, serious problems can develop in the lining of the arteries, which then lead to plaque formation. Plaque is what leads to heart attacks and blockage of blood flow in the arteries. It is important to understand the conditions affecting your heart and the habits needed to prevent or manage them. Taking action will help you keep your ticker in top shape.
In light of February being heart health month, here are the 5 top tips on how to manage and prevent heart conditions.
Do Not Smoke or Use Tobacco
Everyone has heard the common phrase “smoking is bad for you”, but are you aware of why smoking is bad?
Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in your blood and increases blood pressure. The heart has to work harder in order to supply the body and brain with oxygen causing an elevated heart rate. Elevated heart rates make breathing harder as it causes shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen ankles, and possibly chest pains. Worst cases cause irregular heartbeats. Even non-smokers are at high risk of heart diseases due to secondhand smoke. Trapping your kids in the car or smoking in the house can put those around you at risk of health problems.
Good news: your risk of heart disease decreases a little as a day after quitting. A year without cigarettes causes your risk to drop about half of the original amount had the smoking continued.
Regular, daily physical activity can lower the risk of heart disease as it helps control your weight and reduces your chances of developing other conditions that could implement strain onto the heart. Exercising helps regulate blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
It is recommended to participate in at least 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily. If you have orthopedic issues, swimming and aerobic exercises are a great way to get in the activity while taking the pressure off your joints. However, if you have not been active for a while, it may be necessary to start slowly. Even shorter bouts of activity offer benefits. The physical activities do not have to be boring. Gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog all count towards the goal. These activities all provide benefits; however, exercising strenuously can help you see bigger benefits.
Seems simple enough. Everywhere you go, doctors will tell you dieting is essential to health but do you know what a HEART-healthy diet looks like? With fast food options largely at your fingertips, it can be hard to gauge the intake of healthy food, but a healthy diet can help protect your heart, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A lot of people believe they are eating healthy, but actually are not. For example: getting a salad can seem healthy, but what you add to the top can make the meal more complicated. Getting a salad with the dressing, egg, and cheese can actually transform the healthy greens into a fast food equivalent. Instead a meal like brown rice, beans, and vegetables can provide a healthier lunch.
Heart-healthy foods include:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Beans or other legumes
- Lean meats and fish
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil
Sub out Cravings
A food craving is an intense desire for a specific food. These cravings can lead a person to eat foods that have adverse health effects and disrupt efforts to follow a healthy diet. The brain regions responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward play a role in food cravings as they are caused by an imbalance of hormones. Reducing cravings can be achieved by reducing stress levels, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, eating enough protein, chewing gum, changing the scenery, and avoiding hunger. Replacing cravings with healthier food options is a great way to feed the craving while being healthy.
- If craving pasta try edamame spaghetti
- Sub sugary treats with fresh sweet fruits. Keeping dried fruits like prunes or raisins can also be helpful to feed the craving on the go.
- Replace salty potato chips with cashews or peanuts. Even Air-popped popcorn is a great alternative.
- Soda can be replaced with sparkling water. By squeezing fruit juice or adding a slice of orange can help replace the soda craving. It provides a similar feeling, but has fewer calories and less sugar.
- Cheese: Replacing full fat cheese with low fat, low sodium versions is a healthier option.
Limiting the intake of salt, sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, saturated fats in red meats and full-fat dairy products, and trans fat from fried foods, chips and baked goods are a great step to increasing heart health.
Cheat meals are okay, but not cheat days. There is no issue with eating a sweet treat every now and then as long as it is in moderation. Do not overindulge, and limit the amount you allow yourself to have. One piece of cake is not going to ruin your health, but having the whole cake in one sitting may prove to have consequences.
A lack of sleep can affect the body in various different ways, as sleep in the body’s way of recovering after a long day. Those who lack sleep have increased risks of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes, and depression.
Make sleep a priority by setting a sleep schedule and sticking to waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day in order to help regulate the body. If you are still tired after a good night’s rest, ask a doctor if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea increases your risk of heart disease.
- Loud snoring
- Stopping breathing for short times during sleep
- Waking up gasping for air
- Waking up with a headache
- Getting up with a sore throat or dry mouth
- Insomnia (difficulty staying asleep)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
Managing stress can also help with sleep and protect against heart diseases. Finding alternatives to managing stress other than overeating, drinking or smoking such as, physical activity, relaxation exercises, or meditation can help improve your health all together. Today, stress levels are extremely high in western civilization. Spending 30 minutes a day relaxing your mind in body in any way you seem fit will enable you to let the stress go.
Love and the heart go hand-in-hand. Those with supportive connections in life with a spouse, family member, friends, or even a pet have been proven to have less heart attacks and are at lower risks for heart diseases. Love has also been found to help patients survive heart attacks better.
Risk Factors that Can Be Controlled
Thinking all cholesterol is bad is a common misconception. The body actually needs 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day in order to work right. However, those with a high risk of heart disease should only consume 200 mg a day. There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is often referred to as good cholesterol and helps remove plaque; whereas, LDL is considered bad as it can contribute to artery-clogging plaque. In the end, HDL can help protect the body against heart disease when the two are balanced. When there is a shift and the LDL is high, the body is more at risk for heart disease.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance the body makes. It allows your body to make vitamin D and certain hormones, including estrogen in women and testosterone in men. It also helps with digestion. There are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, and it is best to get your cholesterol levels checked through a blood test. Talk to your doctor about how to best prep for and set up a test.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure puts the body at risk of the following:
- Heart attack – High blood pressure damages the arteries. Blocked arteries prevent blood flow to the heart muscle.
- Stroke – High blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to clog easily and even burst.
- Heart failure – The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body.
- Kidney disease/failure – amaged arteries due to high blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidney and interfere with the ability to filter blood.
- Vision loss – High blood pressure can strain or damage blood vessels to the eyes
Blood pressure has a big impact in the body’s natural ability to function. Controlling the activities you partake in and controlling your body’s blood pressure is a number one line of defense for your overall health.
High blood sugar or glucose is elevated within the body, causing diabetes. High blood sugar causes damage to organs over time causing various health problems. These diseases caused by diabetes can increase plaque buildup in blood vessels and around arteries causing heart attacks. Heart arrhythmia causes irregular heart beats and heart failure as the heart cannot pump enough blood to the body. Having diabetes can make it harder for you to go about daily activities as the body feels exhausted due to the lack of blood circulation and overworking of the heart.
In order to prevent heart disease, National Jewish Health Cardiologist, Andres Freeman, MD says “live like a poor crop farmer”, meaning eat what you grow, be active your whole life, be at peace, and connect with others. By following the simple tasks above, it is the best way to prevent heart disease.