No one wants to be a statistic unless that statistic is the 1 in 300 million odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery. Sadly, death or heart attacks due to heart disease happen much more frequently. Heart disease accounts for one in every four deaths annually in the United States. One person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease (which includes other vascular conditions like clogged arteries and stroke). Heart Disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in America according to the latest National Vital Statistics Report.
Here’s the good news. Heart disease is largely preventable.
What if you committed to reducing at least two of your risk factors this year? Once something becomes a habit, it becomes part of your lifestyle, then you don’t have to work at it so much. Then you can focus on reducing other risk factors.
1. Quit smoking
Let’s just get the hardest one out of the way first. Smoking. One alarming
statistic is that smoking is a major cause of every three deaths from cardiovascular disease. That’s huge. If you smoke, you need as much positive encouragement as possible to quit. Click here to read “The Benefits of Quitting Smoking Now” from the American Heart Association. If you are not ready to quit this year, focusing on significantly reducing other risk factors will help. But if you are ready to quit, this one step will do more for your overall health than you can imagine.
2. Quit or reduce alcohol consumption
The American Heart Association has one word for you to consider when it comes to alcohol: moderation. While many boast about the health effects of resveratrol, a type of antioxidant found in red wine, there are numerous other ways to get your fill of antioxidants and the AHA reports there has been no research that has proven a cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart health. While alcohol may lower inhibitions, it increases the level of triglycerides which can contribute to fatty buildup in your arteries. Heavy drinking can even lead to atrial fibrillation, stroke and heart failure. Drinking alcohol also can increase blood pressure. As alcohol itself is high in calories and is often combined with sugary mixers, it can contribute to obesity. Infused sparkling water is a delightful alternative to try.
3. Know your numbers: 120/80 * 25 * 100 * Less than 200/100
When was the last time you had your blood checked? Do you know your total cholesterol levels? Ideal is 200 mg/dl for total cholesterol and 100 mg/dl or less for low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level. Do you know your fasting blood sugar level? It should be less than 100 mg/dl. Your health insurance will cover these routine tests you should have every year, more frequently if there are areas that need to be monitored. Another number is your blood pressure. The normal range for blood pressure is 120/80. The last number is perhaps the most sensitive. What’s your BMI? A healthy body mass index (BMI) is under 25. However, more than 93 million Americans – 39.8% of the population – fall into the obese category. Focusing on this number is not about dieting to look like a super model. It’s reducing body fat to enjoy life and stay healthy.
4. Adopt a heart-healthy eating plan
Educating yourself on healthy BMI levels and knowing your BMI is one thing. Doing something about it is the next step.
A statistic noted in an article in “Progressive Cardiovascular Disease” by DiNicolantonio, Lucan and O’Keefe, is that “a diet high in added sugars has been found to cause a three-fold increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.” They further stated that fructose and fructose-containing sweeteners can cause greater metabolic harm than glucose. The authors warn people more about the dangers of sugars than saturated fats. “When saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates, and specifically with added sugars (like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup), the end result is not favorable for heart health.” They also noted that “people eat foods and not isolated fatty acids” and that some sources pose no risk for coronary heart disease.
The overall idea is to adopt a better healthy eating plan as opposed to a diet to reduce your heart disease risk factors. Here are a few tips to incorporate in your heart-healthy lifestyle:
- Drink more water
- Reduce or eliminate sugary drinks
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach
- Majority of groceries should be fresh produce
- Reduce or eliminate sweets
- Limit processed foods
- Snack selectively – go for veggies and dip instead of chips and dip
- When dining out, don’t be afraid to ask a restaurant to make something with less salt or request that it be grilled instead of fried.
- If so inclined, keep a food diary to track your progress.
5. Exercise will always help
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top contributing factors for cardiovascular disease. According to “Circulation,” a journal of the American Heart Association, if Americans would simply meet the minimum recommended guidelines for exercise, as much as 30 to 40 percent of cardiac events could be prevented. Current recommended levels include 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to 300 minutes (5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes (1.25 hours) to 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of vigorous-intensity activity. The idea is to move more and sit less. One tip to make it realistic: If you can’t get 30 minutes of exercise in during the morning, aim for 15 minutes. Then exercise for another 15 minutes in the evening. Exercise not only helps to control blood pressure and reduce other cardiac risk factors, it is well documented to increase serotonin levels and thus can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, contributing to an overall feeling of health and wellbeing. Now that’s something to take to heart.