Did you know that February is National Heart Health Month? It’s the perfect opportunity to be more proactive about keeping your heart strong and healthy. Heart heath is nothing to ignore, and should be a priority no matter what your age. Worldwide, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in America has a coronary event every 25 seconds. But there’s good news, too. About 80 percent of all cases of cardiovascular disease are preventable. You can significantly lower your risk by making some simple changes to your lifestyle.
Doctors recommend getting a heart health screening every year; this should include a check of blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and BMI. However, as it turns out, some of the best ways to protect yourself from cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, coronary heart disease, and other serious health risks have nothing to do with going to a doctor’s office. You are in control of your heart health, because the most important elements in maintaining a healthy heart are the choices you personally make every day. By altering your lifestyle and nutritional habits in certain ways, you can significantly boost the strength and longevity of your heart.
As part of its “Campaign to Eradicate Heart Attack”, the Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) recommends non-invasive imaging tests — called Coronary Calcium Scoring or Carotid IMT testing — to look for plaque in the arteries. For women who don’t have risk factors or symptoms, SHAPE recommends screening around age 55. For men, SHAPE recommends screening around 45 of age. However, if you have risk factors such as diabetes or a family history of heart disease, it is best to get screened earlier – even if you are experiencing no symptoms.
By altering your lifestyle and nutritional habits in certain ways, you can significantly boost the strength and longevity of your heart. Let’s take a closer look at some of the very best ways to keep your heart healthy.
Of all the reasons to get a good night’s sleep, protecting your heart might not be top of mind. But maybe it should be. Getting enough good quality sleep is essential if you want to keep your heart healthy. According to the American Heart Association, studies have found that most people need six to eight hours of sleep each day and that too little or too much can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Fiber is one of the most important dietary elements for protecting your heart. Fiber scrapes out and eliminates excess “bad” cholesterol, moderates your digestive system, improves the absorption of nutrients, and can even lower your chances of diabetes, which is a major co-contributor to heart disease.. A high-fiber diet contains nutrient-packed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads and legumes, such as black beans, lima beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Your heart grows stronger with exercise, just like any other muscle in your body. Exercise boosts blood flow to the heart, reducing the chances of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that can lead to a heart attack. The American Heart Association says as little as 30 minutes a day, five times a week, of aerobic exercise (including walking) can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health. Being overweight is a major contributing factor to heart disease, as it increases your bad cholesterol, increases your blood pressure, elevates your chances of developing diabetes, and other serious health problems. That is why maintaining a healthy weight is so important: It can eliminate these risk factors that can damage your heart.
Stress can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while simultaneously causing you to handle your stress in dangerous ways, such as an increase in smoking, drinking, or eating unhealthy foods to cope with stressful situations. Learning about and implementing healthy ways to cope with stress can seriously boost your heart health. One great way to reduce stress is getting a pet! Studies have shown that connecting with a pet can increase your overall quality of life, lower stress, cause you to be more active, and generally reduce your chances of developing heart conditions. Other great ways to reduce stress include listening to music, practicing yoga, and remaining sexually active.
Laughter is the best medicine for a number of reasons, but when it comes to heart health, laughter actually boosts your blood flow and prevents hardening of the arteries, which is a main factor that contributes to cardiovascular disease. Maintaining an active social life has been shown to lower blood pressure and increase the release of beneficial endorphins that keep your organs and immune system working properly.
You now know some simple, but important lifestyle changes for a healthy heart. But did you know that you could still be undermining all your efforts with some surprisingly common bad habits?Here are some of the worst habits for heart health, and how to avoid them.
Compared to people with an active lifestyle, those who don’t move enough and tend to sit for five hours or more each day have double the risk for heart failure. If your job requires sitting at a desk all day, get up and take a five-minute walk every hour. This small tweak in your routine can keep your arteries flexible and blood flowing properly, protecting against the negative effects of being sedentary. You can read more about how Sitting Too Much is Killing You [Even if You Exercise] here.
Many chemicals found in tobacco smoke can damage your heart. Smoking decreases your body’s supply of oxygen and causes blood vessels to constrict. This constriction of blood vessels leads to higher blood pressure and an increased chance of heart attacks and strokes.Simply cutting back or switching to low-tar and low-nicotine brands of cigarettes is not enough to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. When you quit smoking, your risk of developing heart disease starts to drop immediately and decreases dramatically within the the first year.
Although a glass of red wine contains antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and alcohol can cause a slight raise in HDL cholesterol levels, drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure, your triglycerides and your calorie count – all of which increase your risk for heart disease. The AHA reports that excessive drinking — more than two drinks a day for men and one drink for women — can interrupt your normal heart rhythm and cause heart failure.
Diet is an important risk factor in coronary heart disease. Eating well can be a challenge, especially when you lead a fast-paced lifestyle. While a little indulgence or the occasional fast-food meal won’t necessarily hurt you, too much unhealthy food can increase your risk for heart disease. Reducing your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium can make a significant reduction in your risk for heart disease.
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