By Sharmin Sampat, MS, dietetic intern, California Polytechnic State University
There is a lot one can do to lower your risk of heart disease. There are many factors that contribute to getting heart disease – some we can control and some we can’t. Learning about the factors that can reduce the risk and taking action will not only improve your health but will also make you feel better in general and ward you from other chronic diseases we as humans are prone to. Factors that we cannot control, or change are age, gender, family history or genetics, and race or ethnicity. Fortunately, there are many ways you can reduce your odds of getting heart disease.
Taking these 8 measures will protect your heart and health. They will greatly reduce the odds of getting a heart disease or any other chronic disease that comes along with a poor lifestyle.
- Eat more whole foods: Adopt a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Limit your intake of saturated fats, high sodium foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and highly processed foods. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables helps in increased intake of fiber which is known to reduce the occurrence of heart disease. Adding oily fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fats like the salmon, can also help in improving heart health.
- Improve cholesterol levels: High cholesterol levels increase the risk of clogged arteries thereby increasing the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dL and HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be at least 50 mg/dL for women and 40 mg/dL for men. Diet and exercise play an important role in helping manage cholesterol levels.
- Watch out for high blood pressure: High blood pressure is the most common heart disease risk factor. Know your blood pressure and keep it under control. Lifestyle changes; including eating healthy, exercising, and avoid too much salt can help prevent high blood pressure.
- Prevent and control diabetes: People who have diabetes are at a greater risk to develop heart disease and stroke. High blood sugar levels damage the arteries and blood vessels increasing the risk. It is important to keep the blood sugar in check through diet, exercise, and medications if you have diabetes. Prediabetes can be reversed if taken care of.
- Get active: Being active can protect against heart diseases as exercising helps the heart to work efficiently, reducing blood pressure and stress. Exercising also helps in maintaining a healthy weight which significantly protects against various chronic diseases. 30 minutes of activity at least 3-4 times a week is a good aim.
- Moderate alcohol use: Increased intake of alcohol can increase risk of many cancers as well as raise your blood pressure. Alcohol adds extra calories to your intake, making it difficult for you to lose weight and in turn increasing your risk of heart disease. If you do drink, limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one for women.
- Manage your stress: Stress has been proven to increase risk of heart diseases as it increases your blood pressure. Extreme stress or depression can increase your risk for a heart attack. Easy lifestyle changes like exercising, healthy diet, music, meditation can help but if you feel you are too stressed or depressed it is best to seek professional help.
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking greatly increases one’s chances of heart attack and stroke. Every cigarette you smoke does irreversible damage to the heart. If you smoke, quitting can help in undoing the damage to some extent and lower the risk of heart disease. Talk to your physician to find out about ways and best methods for you to quit.