Heart disease is the leading killer in the USA in both males and females. In America it is responsible for one in every four deaths and costs the country a massive $108.9 billion per year. Heart disease is an incredibly common condition and its occurrence is influenced by a number of risk factors, including genetics, lifestyle and dietary based factors.
Although genetics plays some part in the development of heart disease, many of the risk factors are controllable. With a healthy lifestyle, most people can greatly reduce their risk of heart disease, as well as other lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
It is important to monitor for signs of developing heart disease, and regular screening is a must, particularly for older adults and those with a family history of heart disease.
The following five tips will not only reduce the risk of developing this deadly disease, but also improve your overall health and well being.
Smoking, even passively, has been shown to greatly increase the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. Tobacco is thought to promote narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels or atherosclerosis, as well as increasing blood clotting factors, and thus resulting in increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Smoking can also raise blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease. To add to this, carbon monoxide created by tobacco use decreases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to the organs in the body.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese is a key risk factor in the development of heart disease. High blood pressure and high LDL, (bad), cholesterol levels are both linked to excess body weight and increase chances of developing heart disease. Abdominal fat is of particular concern, and is thought to be a greater risk factor than excess fat in other areas of the body.
A body mass index (BMI) of over 25 has been associated with increased risk of heart disease and accompanying risk factors. However, as BMI does not account for individuals with a high percentage of muscle, such as athletes, waist circumference should also be taken into account when determining if weight loss is required. If this measurement is over 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women, the individual is considered overweight.
Even a small amount of around 10% weight loss can drastically reduce the risk of heart disease.
It has been shown that those who are physically inactive are at greater risk of developing heart disease. Increasing exercise levels can lead to benefits such as lower body weight, lower blood pressure and higher HDL, (good), cholesterol in the blood.
Aim for at least thirty minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day for best results, although if you have not exercised for a long time or are overweight you may need to build up to this. Always consult your doctor before starting a physical activity program if you have not exercised before or for a long time.
Incidental exercise should also be considered. Small changes such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off the bus a stop early and walking or cleaning the house all contribute to a more active lifestyle.
Eat a heart healthy diet
Diet can be a major risk factor is the development of heart disease. Not only do certain types of food have negative effects on blood fats and blood pressure, eating too much or the wrong types of food can lead to excess weight.
A diet that is healthy for your heart should include:
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low fat dairy
- Low fat protein sources such as beans, fish and lean meat in small portions.
Saturated fats, found in red meat, dairy, butter, coconut and palm oils should be avoided, as these types of fat increase levels of bad cholesterol in the blood stream, leading to increased risk of heart disease.
Trans fats, often labelled as partially hydrogenated fat, also have this effect and should be avoided. These are found in foods that are deep fried, packaged snack foods, some margarine (this is becoming less common), bakery products and crackers.
Whilst avoiding these two types of fats is ideal for a healthier heart, other types of fats have been associated with reduce risk of heart disease. This is because they act to reduce the bad cholesterol in the blood and increase good cholesterol levels. Mono and polyunsaturated fats have this positive effect and are found in foods such as olive, canola, sunflower and other vegetable oils, nuts, and avocados.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be a polyunsaturated fat particularly helpful in decreasing risk of heart disease. They act by lowering blood pressure and controlling cholesterol levels. These are present in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as some oils such as canola, soybean, flaxseed and walnut.
It is important to remember, that whilst some fats have a heart protective effects, all will make you gain weight if consumed in excess. For this reason a low fat diet with small to moderate amounts of healthy fats is the best option for both those at risk of heart disease and the general population.
The DASH diet, (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease and associated risk factors. This low fat and cholesterol diet focuses on a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain and low fat dairy products, in addition to low fat protein sources. The diet is also low in salt, which may help to protect against high blood pressure.
Moderate alcohol intake
Excess alcohol consumption has also been associated with increased risk of heart disease, and a moderate alcohol intake is recommended. It is thought that in moderation, alcohol is even cardio-protective. For men recommended intake is no more than 2 standard drinks per day, and one a day for women, with at least two alcohol free days per week.
References used in this article