Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.
Understanding a heart-healthy lifestyle is important. It involves understanding your risk, making good food choices, and taking steps to reduce your chances of getting heart disease, including coronary heart disease, the most common type. Taking preventive measures may lower your risk of developing heart disease and improve your overall health and well-being.
Understand Your Risks
Your risk for heart disease depends on many factors, some of which are changeable and others that are not. Risk factors are higher for heart disease if you: Have high blood pressure; have high blood cholesterol; are overweight or obese; have prediabetes or diabetes; smoke; do not get regular physical activity; have a family history of early heart disease (your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, or your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65); have a history of preeclampsia (a sudden rise in blood pressure and too much protein in the urine during pregnancy); have unhealthy eating behaviors; are older (age 55 or older for women or age 45 or older for men).
Each risk factor increases a person’s chance of developing heart disease.
Some risk factors cannot be changed. These include your age, sex, and a family history of early heart disease. However, many others risk factors can be modified. For example, being more physically active and eating healthy are important steps for your heart health.
Women and Heart Disease
Women generally get heart disease about 10 years later than men do, but it is still the number one killer of women. After menopause, women are more likely to get heart disease, in part because estrogen hormone levels drop. Women who have gone through early menopause are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women of the same age who have not gone through menopause. Middle-age is also a time when women tend to develop other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.
Get Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Checked
Two of the major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
Your blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and your blood vessels.
Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, you will likely need to be checked more often.
Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other risk factors for heart disease.
High blood cholesterol is a condition in which your blood has unhealthy levels of cholesterol—a waxy, fat-like substance.
Many factors affect your cholesterol levels. For example, age, sex, eating patterns, and physical activity level can affect your cholesterol levels.
A blood test can show whether your cholesterol levels are in range. Your cholesterol numbers will include total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Ask your doctor what your numbers mean for you.
The following foods are the foundation of a heart-healthy eating plan: Vegetables such as leafy greens (dandelion, collard greens, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots); fruits such as apples, cherries, oranges, pears, grapes, and mangoes; whole grains such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa; fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as organic milk, cheese, or yogurt; protein-rich foods (fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids; lean meats such as lean beef or pork tenderloin or chicken or turkey; eggs; nuts and seeds; legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans); foods high in monounsaturated fats (nuts such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, and pine nuts; nut and seed butters; salmon and trout; avocados).
Foods to limit would be processed foods high in added sugar and salt, trans fats, and alcohol. Understanding nutrition labels can help you choose healthier foods.
Adults and children over age 14 should eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. If you have high blood pressure, you may need to limit sodium even more.
Read food labels and choose products that have less sodium for the same serving size.
Choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added products.
Choose fresh, frozen, or no-salt-added foods instead of pre-seasoned, sauce-marinated, brined, or processed meats, poultry, and vegetables.
Eat at home more often, so you can cook food from scratch, which will allow you to control the amount of sodium in your meals.
Flavor your foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
When cooking, limit your use of premade sauces, mixes, and instant products such as rice, noodles, and ready-made pasta.
Limit trans fats as much as possible. This includes foods made with partially hydrogenated oils such as some desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarines, and coffee creamers. Read nutrition labels and choose foods that do not contain trans fats. Dairy products and meats naturally contain very small amounts of trans fats. You do not need to avoid these foods because they have other important nutrients.
Limit Added Sugars
You should limit the amount of calories you get each day from added sugars. This will help you choose nutrient-rich foods.
Some foods, such as fruit, contain natural sugars. However, added sugars do not occur naturally in foods. They include brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, and sucrose.
Read the labels and choose foods without added sugars.
Talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you drink. Your doctor may recommend that you reduce the amount of alcohol you drink or that you stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol can: (1) Add calories to your daily diet and possibly cause you to gain weight; (2) Raise your blood pressure and levels of triglyceride fats in your blood; (3) Contribute to or worsen heart failure in some people, such as some people who have cardiomyopathy; (4) Raise your risk of other diseases such as cancer.
If you do not drink, you should not start. You should not drink if you are pregnant; are under the age of 21; taking certain medicines; or if you have certain medical conditions, including heart failure.
Research suggests that an emotionally upsetting event, particularly an angry one, can serve as a trigger for a heart attack or angina in some people. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. Some of the ways people cope with stress—drinking alcohol, using other substances, smoking, or overeating—are not healthy ways to manage stress.
Learning how to manage stress and cope with problems can improve your mental and physical health. Consider healthy stress-reducing activities such as: (1) Talking to a professional counselor; (2) Participating in a stress-management program; (3) Practicing meditation; (4) Being physically active; (5) Trying relaxation techniques; (6) Talking with friends, family, and community or religious support systems.
Get Regular Physical Activity
Regular physical activity can help you lose excess weight, improve physical fitness, lower many heart disease risk factors such as “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and manage high blood pressure. Physical activity can also lower stress and improve your mental health, as well as lower your risk for other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression, and cancer
The more active you are, the more you will benefit. Participate in aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time throughout the week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommends that each week, adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
Another way you can begin to increase your activity level is by reducing how long you sit at a given time. Breaking up how long you sit will benefit your overall health.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can raise your risk of heart disease and heart attack and worsen other heart disease risk factors. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.
Talk to your doctor if you vape. There is scientific evidence that nicotine and flavorings found in vaping products can damage your heart and lungs.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. Not getting enough sleep or good-quality sleep over time can raise your risk for chronic health problems. The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life.
Sleep helps heal and repair your heart and blood vessels, helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full, helps support healthy growth and development, and helps support a healthy immune system.
Over time, not getting enough quality sleep, called sleep deficiency, can raise your risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
You can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. Some sleep strategies are to: (1) Spend time outside every day, if possible, and be physically active; (2) Avoid nicotine and caffeine; (3) Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime; (4) Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed; (5) Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day; (6) One hour before you go to bed, shut off all electronic devices and avoid exercise and bright light; (7) Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed; (8) Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.