Five keys to prevent cardiovascular disease
Are you doing everything you can to keep your heart healthy?
While cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death each year in the United States, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
The good news is that an estimated 80% of all CVD cases — heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke — can be prevented. The key is to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol and to maintain healthy habits, such as exercising daily, eating a plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, and of course, not smoking.
You can help prevent heart disease by doing four key things and making them into habits:
- Don’t smoke (or quit if you do)
- Do exercise; be active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Follow a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep
1. Not smoking
One of the greatest things about natural supplements is that there is more than one way to introduce them into your daily routine. Most natural supplements are sold in capsule or gel capsules, tinctures, or even teas.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to not use tobacco in any form. Tobacco use is a hard-to-break habit that not only gives you horrid breath, but slows you down, makes you sick, and shortens your lifespan. One way it does this is by contributing to heart disease. Even if you're not a smoker, be sure to avoid secondhand smoke because this too is very bad for your health.
The risk of heart disease starts to drop in as little as a day after quitting. After a year without cigarettes, the risk of heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. No matter how long or how much you smoked, you'll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
Exercise and any physical activity are excellent ways to prevent heart disease and many other diseases and conditions, but many of us get less activity as we get older.
- Getting regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and it can also help control stress, improve sleep, boost mood, keep weight in check, and reduce the risk of falling and improve cognitive function in older adults.
- It doesn’t take marathon training to see real health gains. A 30-minute walk five days of the week will provide important benefits for most people. Getting any amount of exercise is better than none.
- Exercise and physical activity benefit the body, while a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite—increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases.
- Research shows that people who spend more time each day watching television, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who are more active. A 2013 study showed that, among women ages 50-79 with no cardiovascular disease at the start of study, prolonged sitting time was associated with increased heart disease risk regardless of the amount of time spent in leisure-time physical activity.
3. Maintaining a healthy weight
Being overweight — especially around the middle of the body — increases the risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase the chances of developing heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
The body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight to determine whether a person is overweight or obese. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight and is generally associated with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much belly fat you have. The risk of heart disease is higher if the waist measurement is greater than:
- 40 inches (101.6 cm) for men
- 35 inches (88.9 cm) for women
Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing weight by just 3% to 5% can help decrease certain fats in the blood (triglycerides), lower blood sugar (glucose) and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Losing even more helps lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.
Weight and height go hand-in-hand. The taller you are, the more you weigh. That’s why researchers have devised several measures that account for both weight and height. The one most commonly used is BMI, which we mentioned above.
4. Following a healthy diet
For years, research into connections between diet and heart disease focused on individual nutrients like cholesterol (and foods high in dietary cholesterol, like eggs), types of fats, and specific vitamins and minerals. This work has been revealing, but it has also generated some dead ends, along with myths and confusion about what constitutes a heart-healthy diet. That’s because people eat food, not nutrients.
- The best diet for preventing heart disease is one that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils and goes easy if at all on red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, foods and beverages with added sugar, sodium, and foods with trans fat.
- People with diets consistent with this dietary pattern had a 31% lower risk of heart disease, a 33% lower risk of diabetes, and a 20% lower risk of stroke.
Sodium and potassium are two interrelated minerals that play major roles in regulating blood pressure and a healthy heart. Eating less salty foods and more potassium-rich foods may significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy. But the reverse of eating a lot of sodium-rich foods especially from processed breads, packaged snacks, canned goods, and fast-food meals while skimping on potassium can increase cardiovascular disease risk.
5. Get enough sleep
People who don't get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.
Most adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it's easier to sleep.
If you feel like you've been getting enough sleep but you're still tired throughout the day, ask your health care provider if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can increase your risk of heart disease. Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, stopping breathing for short times during sleep and waking up gasping for air. Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include losing weight if you're overweight or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that keeps your airway open while you sleep.
So, whether you’re a young adult, a parent, a grandparent, or a caregiver, regardless of where you work or where you live, there is something you can do today to priorize your heart health and create a brighter present and future for yourself and your loved ones.
Your actions and decisions have the power to awaken and inspire other individuals across generations to take care of their heart, whether it's a child or young adult forming healthy habits, a mom raising her children and supporting her aging parents, or older people who could use resources and support, here and now. What’s it gonna be?