Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the United States and around the world. According to information from the CDC, it accounts for almost 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. and affects more men than women. Many problems associated with heart disease involve the build up of plaque in the artery walls which narrow the arteries making it difficult for blood to flow. This increases the risk of a heart attack or a stroke. On World Heart Day let’s educate ourselves on how we can reduce the risk of future heart disease.
The first thing is to meet with a doctor for a physical. Even if you feel good, getting a check up can give you a starting point and help you understand your numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Many people who have high blood pressure don’t even know it because there are no warning signs or symptoms. According to the World Health Day “know you risk,” as high blood pressure is the number one factor for CVD or cardiovascular disease. The same can be said of diabetes. CVD accounts for 60% of all deaths in people with diabetes. Not treating this problem puts you at an increased risk.
You can’t protect your heart if you are not fueling your heart with healthy food choices. Eating fruits and veggies, lean meats and fish, and limiting your fats such as oil and butter is the way to go. Processed and prepackaged foods may be convenient, but are high in sugar, salt and fat. Replace soft drinks and other sugar-heavy beverages with water or unsweetened fruit juices. Taking home-made lunches to school or work can help you make healthy choices and keep you on track.
Add some moderate exercise, such as walking, to your day. You don’t have to join a gym to get the exercise you need. Go to YouTube and type “walking exercise” to see a list of easy to do routines, many of them endorsed by the American Heart Association. If you are out of shape, start out moving slowly and build from there. When the weather is nice, tie up your tennis shoes and head outside for some fresh air. If winter is cold where you live, head to a mall and walk around the area at least one full circuit before you stop to window shop. Treat yourself to a pedometer or fitness watch to measure your steps and challenge yourself to reach higher numbers. You will be surprised at the number of steps you actually walk.
Above all, if you are a cigarette smoker, use smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes, give it up. The nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure causing arteries to stiffen. Chemicals in cigarette smoke replaces the oxygen with carbon dioxide, causing your blood to thicken, making it more difficult to pass through narrowed arteries. Smoking also causes your muscles to fatigue quicker and makes exercise more difficult. Besides heart disease, cigarette smoking can cause cancer, COPD and a laundry list of other problems. Smoking around family members also increases their risk of cardiovascular disease. The good news is within 2 years of quitting smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced; within 15 years the risk is that of a non-smoker.
Be good to your heart. It will appreciate every step you take to reduce your risk of CVD.