There are at least 31 million Americans with heart disease and each year close to 650,000 of them die from it. In fact, despite exhaustive research, heart disease still remains the number one killer of people all over the world. But all is not gloom and doom about heart disease. The good news is that, unlike many other illnesses, it is one of the few disorders that can be prevented by making changes in lifestyle. But this lifestyle change has to be permanent to achieve good heart healthiness. Here are some tips on ways to stay heart healthy.
- Limit the intake of salt. People who consume an excessive amount of salt generally tend to have higher blood pressure and this, in turn, is a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. The current salt recommendation for adults is no more than 6 grams a day. You should reduce the salt intake in your foods and also read food labels to determine the salt levels. Salt levels tend to be very high in fast foods and processed meat products. By cutting down on the salt, you will not only lower your blood pressure, but the dose of medications required to lower your blood pressure should also be lower. Always be on the lookout for ways to stay heart healthy.
- Consume less sugar. Sugar is fast becoming public enemy number one because it provides junk calories, which can rapidly lead to obesity. Sugar is everywhere and can be found in most foods. Excess consumption of sugar can lead to diabetes, disease of blood vessels, and heart disease. In addition, sugar is a major cause of dental cavities and rotten teeth. It is vital to cut down on our sugar intake. This can be done by cutting the consumption of beverages, such as soda, and eating less sweetened foods, such as pies, candies, chocolates, etc. Reading labels is also important to help achieve heart health, as many foods are packed with sugar and you might want to try to avoid the majority of them.
- Limit saturated fats. Saturated fats are commonly found in butter, pies, cakes, pastries, biscuits, margarine, dairy fat, and almost all meats. The problem with saturated fats is that they promote atherosclerosis in blood vessels, eventually leading to blockage. It is important to use only a minimal amount of saturated fat when cooking, or better still, avoid it and use unsaturated fats. Read labels on foods and cut down on meat products, like pork, chicken skin, red meat, bacon, and ham. Choose low-fat dairy products and avoid the consumption of pies, cakes, and biscuits. Finally, limit the intake of fried foods; instead, grill or bake the foods you eat at home.
- Eat higher amounts of plant-based foods. There is no longer any question about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Plant foods, like fruits and veggies, provide many essential nutrients and minerals and are low in calories. In addition, veggies are also rich in fiber, which can help regulate your bowel movements and even lower your blood sugar. All fruits and vegetables are considered to be heart-healthy, and you should eat at least 2-4 types of plant-based foods every day. In general, people who eat a plant-based diet live longer, have a good quality of life and are usually freer of medical illnesses.
- Eat more fish. Instead of red meat, eat more fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod, and many more. These fish are packed with unsaturated fatty acids that can lower your blood cholesterol. It is recommended that people eat fish at least 2-3 times a week. If you are a vegetarian but want to derive the same benefits, you can obtain the helpful Omega 3 fatty acids by eating walnuts, wheat germ, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and using canola oil for cooking.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and many other health problems, like cancer. Individuals who smoke are several times more likely to develop a heart attack than people who do not smoke. Nicotine is known to narrow the blood vessels, which limits the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart. This narrowing can also lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of kidney failure and stroke. There is no magic bullet to stop smoking; strangely, cold turkey is often the most effective and cheapest way to stop this habit. At the same time, avoid inhaling secondhand smoke.
- Reduce the intake of alcohol. In general, alcohol intake is associated with many health problems, including high blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle, and initiating abnormal heart rhythms. Small amounts of alcohol are known to reduce blood cholesterol to some degree, but since some people cannot control the amount they drink, it could become more problematic. The benefit of drinking a small amount of alcohol can also easily be derived from walking, which is not only safe but free. If you want to drink alcohol, men should drink no more than two glasses of wine per day and women should only drink one glass of wine per day.
- Become physically active. Overall, people who are not physically active can develop a whole array of medical problems, including heart disease, more than those who are active. Any type of physical activity is better than no activity at all. At a minimum, it is recommended that one get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week to reduce the risk of heart disease. For those starting, walking for 45-60 minutes every day is good. The key is to be consistent. Exercise not only helps reduce the waistline but can help lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
- Reduce your body weight. Obesity is not a benign illness and it is associated with numerous chronic health problems, including heart disease and premature death. Obesity can be reversed but requires sustained effort and dedication. By reducing body weight, one not only lowers the risk of heart disease but also many types of cancers. To reduce body weight means eating less, becoming physically active, and/or undergoing weight loss surgery.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Bacteria from the mouth are known to infect the heart valves in some people. Hence, always maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. By keeping cavities away, you also reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Control your stress. A major risk factor for poor health and heart disease is uncontrolled stress. So, it is important to take steps to ease the stress in your life. Do not turn to alcohol to relieve stress, but practice yoga, meditation, tai chi, deep breathing exercises, or enroll in stress relief classes. In general, by easing stress, not only will your heart health improve but the overall quality of your life will be enhanced.
- Get adequate sleep. It is now known that people who have poor sleep habits tend to be at high risk for heart disease. Too little or disjointed sleep disturbs the hormonal balance in the body, which then creates havoc on the rest of the organs. Get in the habit of getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Keep your bedroom free from potential distractions, such as watching television or working on the computer into the wee hours. Get to bed in a timely fashion and get up in the morning at the same time. Good sleep relieves stress, makes you feel refreshed, and can revitalize you for the day ahead.
To learn more about how to stay heart-healthy, visit the Healthy Heart Program led by Dr. Juan Riviera.