Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you want to live a longer life, it’s important to understand how to prevent heart disease through diet, exercise, sleep and other healthy habits. Although family history, age, and genetics also help determine your risk for heart disease, making the proper lifestyle choices can significantly reduce your likelihood.
Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are all food-related factors of heart disease, and a healthy diet is a great way to prevent them. Ideally, you should consume a naturally occurring rainbow of colors from fruits and vegetables each day. Legumes, nuts and whole grains high in fiber, like oatmeal and brown rice, are also excellent sources of heart-healthy nutrients. As you incorporate more healthy food into your diet, be sure you’re also cutting back on processed foods and sugary drinks.
To turn healthy eating into a long-term habit, focus on changing your lifestyle in general rather than following fad diets that are hard to maintain. Keto, for example, is not effective for heart health and is difficult to adhere to for long periods. Dietary supplements are also unnecessary if you’re eating a well-balanced diet. Never use them to replace healthy food, as this is harmful to your heart over time.
Vegetarian diets are also great for lowering your cholesterol. However, if you’re a lifelong meat-eater, this may not be practical. Instead, make gradual changes — like “Meatless Monday,” for example — as you strive to choose foods high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in unhealthy fats and sugar.
You should also carefully monitor your sodium intake. Sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can eventually lead to heart disease. The FDA suggests eating less than 2,300 mg per day, although most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day.
Sodium can hide in many of your favorite, unsuspecting foods. Watch out for deli meat, pizza, popcorn, soups and burritos — especially when dining out. Cooking your meals at home, keeping table salt to a minimum and using low-salt versions of your favorite foods will help you control your daily sodium intake.
Your heart is like any other muscle — the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Working out is a great way to stay healthy and strengthen your heart. Since many gyms are closed due to the pandemic, you may have to get creative with exercise. Luckily, in a warm, sunny state like Arizona, it’s easy to stay active year-round.
Experts suggest that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Moderate activities include brisk walking, casual biking, gardening and anything else that elevates your heart rate. If you want to push your body further, consider performing vigorous exercises for 75 minutes per week. Vigorous exercise makes your heart pound and usually leaves you out of breath. Examples include running, hiking uphill, aerobic dancing and jumping rope.
When creating exercise goals, don’t expect to go straight from the couch to a 5K. Give yourself the time to start slowly and increase intensity as you go. Remember, exercise that gets you up and moving is good for you. It will be easier to live a permanently active lifestyle if you find workouts you enjoy.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the United States. It can damage all organs in the body, including your heart. We all know the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, like cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke.
But is vaping a healthier alternative? Not necessarily.
Vaping still contains nicotine, which is the addictive substance found in cigarettes. Although they have less toxins, chemicals and carcinogens than cigarettes, vapes are still full of other potentially harmful substances. Since vaping is a newer trend, no one is sure of its long-term health risks — but they certainly exist. Studies show that those who use vapes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes often end up using both simultaneously.
Quitting nicotine looks different for everyone. Some choose to wean themselves off, some quit cold turkey and others rely on medications. Many people choose a “quit day” so they can prepare themselves for this lifestyle change. If you are ready to stop using nicotine, there’s no shortage of websites, hotlines and support groups to help you kick your smoking habit for good. For additional help, talk to your doctor to create a plan to quit that works for you.
Stress is also a major contributing factor of heart disease. If you’re constantly busy, limiting stress may be easier said than done, but you can keep it to a minimum with these tips:
- Set aside time each day to relax, breathe and meditate in peace.
- Find physical outlets that bring you joy, like hiking or sports.
- Stay connected with loved ones virtually, or in-person if you are vaccinated.
- Talk to a counselor or therapist if you are struggling.
Getting enough sleep decreases your blood pressure, as well as your risk for obesity and diabetes. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day. If you struggle getting enough nightly rest, these ideas may help:
- Sleep in a cool, dark and quiet room.
- Separate yourself from technology before bed.
- If you do use technology before bed, block your screen’s blue light and set timers.
- Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day.
Heart disease accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in the United States. Every year as a society, we become better at understanding and identifying the risks and factors of heart disease. But it’s up to you to take charge of your health. With the right lifestyle practices in place, you can set yourself up to live a long life with a healthy heart.
To learn more about how to prevent heart disease, call 1 (833) VLLYWSE or visit valleywisehealth.org.