Reducing your risk of heart disease can be as simple as eating better and learning how to cope with stress.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. But for many people, modest lifestyle changes can provide the same, or better, benefits than medications.
Here are some things you can do to lower your risk:
- Stop Smoking
Many of people who suffer heart attacks are smokers. This is one of those risk factors for which there’s no medicine that helps – as is the case with cholesterol and high blood pressure. So ultimately this is a decision that you must make to improve your health.
Cutting back on smoking can help. But to gain the most benefits possible, you need to stop completely. Risk reduction can start in as little as one day after you stop. Within a year, your risk of heart disease will drop to half of what it was when you were smoking.
And vaping it not a healthy alternative to cigarettes. It carries its own risks for your heart.
- Lower Your Blood Pressure
One of the most important parts of your annual checkup is your blood pressure reading. As you get older, this is one of the body’s first early warning systems for a range of potential problems, including heart disease.
If left unchecked, high blood pressure can create havoc with your body, leading to heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, blindness and dementia.
For many people, blood pressure can be brought to safe levels through exercise and dietary changes, including reducing salt, caffeine and alcohol. Genetics can come into play, too. If both of your parents had high blood pressure, there’s a good chance it’s going to be passed on to you.
- Exercise More
Getting your body moving can go a long way toward keeping your heart in good shape. The minimum recommendation is 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, of some sort of activity. Walking is perhaps the easiest, and cheapest, form or exercise you can do. But the key is finding something you enjoy so that you aren’t looking for excuses to avoid it.
You can find online apps to help guide and track your workouts. But it doesn’t need to be complicated. It may also help to find a partner – a family member or friend, for example, to help keep you motivated.
You may be wondering how hard you need to work out. You aren’t training for a marathon. But at the same time, you need more than a slow ambling walk. An easy goal is to push yourself up to the point where it becomes difficult to carry on a conversation.
- Eat Better
The best thing you can do for your heart is to cut back on or eliminate processed foods. There are quite a few popular diets out there, many of them with their own arguments for why they work. No matter which one you choose, most share the strategy of avoiding fast foods and processed foods packed with sugar, salt and fat.
In the end, it’s all about making good choices. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an occasional piece of cake. Rather than thinking of yourself as being on a diet (a word that suggests something is temporary), you need to change the way you eat.
Heart-healthy foods include:
- Beans and other legumes
- Lean meats and fish
- Whole grains
- Olive oil and other healthy fats
- Low-fat and dairy-free food
- Reduce Your Stress
Stress has wide ranging implications for your entire body. Part of that is because of how people react to stress. You may turn to alcohol, drugs or smoking as coping mechanisms. It also dampens enthusiasm for exercise and fuels unhealthy eating habits.
Among the healthier coping options:
- A good night’s sleep
- Taking 10 to 15 deep breaths
- Exercise/physical activity
- Spending time with family/friends
- Listening to music
If you are feeling hopeless and getting no relief from your self-care attempts, talk with your doctor or seek assistance from a counselor or mental health professional.
- Cut Back on Alcohol
This is strongly related to stress management. For some people, it’s natural to reach for alcohol after a stressful day. The problem is that drinking too much can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and other problems.
Some research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is actually good for the heart. But there is still much that needs to be learned about this relationship. The American Heart Association (AHA) cautions people not to start drinking for heart health.
The AHA recommends a limit of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. (A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of spirits or 5 ounces of wine.)
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