According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the phrase “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States and occurs when the blood flow to the heart is reduced because of plaque buildup in the arteries. This lack of blood flow can result in a heart attack.
The good news is you can make lifestyle changes today to help lower your risk of developing heart disease.
In this article, we will highlight some risk factors for heart disease that you can control. We will also provide some great heart-healthy tips for what you can do you reduce your risk. As always, please check with your healthcare provider before making any changes.
Do not smoke. If you do, stop today. If you do not smoke, do not start. It is not cool.
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease by 2 to 4 times. Nicotine found in cigarettes makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure.
As Dr. Iliades explains, blood pressure is the force exerted by your blood against your arteries. Blood should flow easily in your body. Having high blood pressure means your arteries are too narrow or stiff, and the heart is working too hard to get the blood flowing throughout your body.
Also, the carbon monoxide and tobacco from smoking reduces the amount of oxygen your body can give to your heart, brain, and arteries.
The good news is if you stop smoking today, you can reduce your risk for heart disease in half in just one year! Moreover, the risk continues to decline the longer you remain a non-smoker.
Keep your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose under control.
High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. These health issues play a part in the hardening and thickening of your arteries and narrows the vessels through which your blood flows.
If you have any of these health concerns, work closely with your healthcare team to keep them under control. Take all medications as prescribed, eat a healthful diet and do some sort of exercise every day!
Maintain a healthy weight.
Gaining a few pounds over the years may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Gaining too much weight increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. These health issues increase your risk of heart disease. Also, gaining weight makes your body work harder to pump blood to all your body’s cells.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center reports that a weight loss of 5 to 10% can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. That means if you weigh 200 pounds, losing just 10 pounds will reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It will also improve your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
So what are you waiting for? Continue reading for tips on how to improve your diet that will help you start losing weight today.
Follow these heart-healthy diet tips.
A heart-healthy diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, healthy fats and whole grains. It is low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium and trans fats. Below are a few simple life tips to help you follow a heart healthy diet.
Choose healthy fats.
Fat plays an essential role in our bodies. It is a great source of energy, it helps to build healthy cells throughout our bodies, and it plays a vital role in the function of many of our hormones. However, not all fats are created equal.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered the healthy or “good” fats. These are the types of fats you should use more often to ensure you are following a heart healthy diet.
One easy way to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet is to use vegetable oils such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn when cooking. These types of fats are liquid at room temperature. Use fewer vegetable shortenings and hard margarines. These contain saturated fats and trans fats which can raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.
Need a snack? Consider munching on a small handful of nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pine nuts, and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds. Eat less prepacked crackers, cookies, baked goods, and fried foods. These foods contain saturated fat and trans fats and can increase your risk of heart disease.
Love dairy? That is okay. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium and vitamin D, as well as a protein and other important nutrients. Choose nonfat or low-fat dairy products (skim or 1% milk, nonfat yogurt, and reduced-fat cheese). Low-fat dairy products give you all the healthy nutrients you need without giving you all the saturated fat found in those foods that can raise your risk of heart disease.
Choose lean cuts of meat such as turkey or chicken breast (without the skin). Alternatively, if you prefer beef, buy round, chuck, sirloin or tenderloin. Consider making a “meatless” meal for dinner one or two days a week. Use lentils, beans or soy to make a healthy hearty stew or soup!
Do not forget to eat fish a couple of times per week! American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which are a type of polyunsaturated fat and heart-healthy. Add salmon, sardines, trout, herring, tuna, or mackerel to your weekly meal plan. A serving size of fish is 3.5 ounce cooked (about the size of a deck of cards), or about ¾ cup of flaked fish.
Eat more fiber.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can not break down. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grain are examples of insoluble fiber, which promote regular bowel movements. Oatmeal, barley, beans, peas, legumes, fruits, some vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain soluble fiber, which helps make you feel full and lowers your cholesterol. Research has shown that eating a high-fiber diet can reduce your risk of heart disease.
The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Adding more fiber to your meals and snacks can be as simple as choosing whole grains instead of refined grains.
Below are a few suggestions from Mayo Clinic on ways to increase your daily fiber intake:
- Eat a high-fiber cereal for breakfast. Choose cereals with the “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name. If you prefer a hot cereal, start your day with a steaming bowl of oatmeal.
- Make your sandwich at lunch with whole grain bread. Whole grain breads will have whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.
- Eat brown rice or wild rice instead of white rice.
- Try barley, whole-wheat pasta or bulgur wheat for a change instead of plain pasta, white rice or white potatoes.
- Make Monday a meatless meal night. Beans, peas, and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad. Alternatively, make nachos with refried black beans, lots of fresh veggies, whole-wheat tortilla chips and salsa.
- Snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables, and low-fat popcorn.
- Don’t forget those soybeans! Not only are they a tasty snack, but they are also rich in protein, polyunsaturated fat, fiber and other nutrients. Edamame, tofu, soy milk, soy nuts, and tempeh can decrease unhealthy cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Eat less salt.
The word salt is often used interchangeably with sodium. These two words are not the same. Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods. Salt or table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride.
Sodium helps to regulate your body’s fluid balance. It also helps with nerve impulses and muscle function. The problem with sodium is we eat too much. According to the American Heart Association, a healthy adult should consume 2300 mg of sodium per day or less, which is about one teaspoon.
Eating too much sodium causes your body to pull water into your blood vessels. Increasing the amount of blood inside your blood vessels, in turn, increases your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease.
More than 75% of the sodium we eat in the US comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods. It is important to choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Look at the nutrition labels and buy products with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving). You will be surprised to learn that different brands of the same food can have significantly different sodium levels.
Below are a few tips from the American Heart Association on ways you can reduce the amount of sodium you eat every day:
- Replace your salt shaker with freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon. Lemon and pepper are excellent on fish, chicken, and vegetables.
- Season your food with onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars when cooking. Rachel Ray offers some great tips on how to use less salt in your recipes.
- Do not add salt when cooking noodles, rice, and hot cereal. You are going to add other flavorful ingredients to these foods, such as sauce to pasta or raisins to cereal, so you do not need the salt.
- Drain and rinse canned vegetables and beans to cut the sodium by up to 40%. Consider buying “no salt added” canned vegetables and beans.
- Buy reduced or lower-sodium condiments. Soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, capers, mustard, pickles, olives, and relish contain a lot of sodium.
- Choose steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted foods. They contain less sodium. Eat fewer foods that are pickled, soaked in brine, barbecued, cured, smoked, come with au jus or soy sauce, miso or teriyaki sauce. These foods are high in sodium.
You may think that eating less sodium will make your food taste bland, but that is not true. Studies have shown that over time your taste buds adjust and you end up preferring the foods with less sodium. Try it and find out for yourself.
Another important way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to be active. Daily, moderate physical activity lowers blood pressure, helps your body control stress and weight, and reduces your risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Moderate activities include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and dancing. Vigorous exercise is running at a brisk speed, shoveling, playing sports such as basketball, tennis or soccer.
If you do not currently exercise, 150 minutes per week can seem like a lot. The good news is that you can start slowly.
Walking can be an easy beginner exercise. Go for a brisk 5-10 minute walk today. Then tomorrow or in a couple of days try to increase that to a 10-15 minute walk. Keep doing this until you are walking at least 30 minutes a day. Walk 30 minutes 5 days a week, and you will reach the recommendation of 150 minutes per week!
Make it fun by encouraging your family and friends to join you. If you get bored of walking, switch it up! Try cycling one day, or join a group and go for a hike.
The good news is that moderate daily exercise can make a big difference. Just take it one step at a time. As with any exercise plan, please let your healthcare provider know that you have started to get moving.
So what are you waiting for? Put on your shoes, grab a friend or a dog and get out there! Do whatever you want to, but whatever you do just start! And once you start, do not stop!
This February do your heart a favor and use this article to help you take some heart-healthy steps towards reducing your risk of heart disease.
Don’t miss an article! Sign up for our newsletter below and we’ll let you know when our next article comes out.