Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the world. Learn about 6 ways you can prevent heart disease and enjoy better health in general.
Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease each year. Said differently, heart disease causes approximately one out of every four deaths in this country.
Although having a family history of heart disease increases your risk, there are several ways you can prevent heart disease that will reduce that risk, including the following 6:
1. If You Smoke, Quit—If You Don’t Smoke, Don’t Start
The list of ways you can prevent heart disease starts with the leading cause of heart disease: smoking. This is because the chemicals in tobacco cause arteries to narrow and the buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis), both of which can lead to heart attacks. In addition, cigarettes contain carbon monoxide, which replaces oxygen in the bloodstream. This forces the heart to work harder, increasing blood pressure. The more you smoke, the greater your risk for heart disease—but even moderate smoking and second-hand smoke, as well as so-called “safe” or “lite” tobacco products, can be dangerous.
If you already smoke, quitting is a great first on the list of ways to prevent heart disease and will begin to decrease the risk of heart disease immediately. That risk goes down significantly after one year of not smoking, and drops to that of people who never smoked after about 15 years.
2. Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day
Regular, moderate exercise can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This is because exercise reduces the risk of developing other conditions—such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol—which contribute to heart disease. The benefits of exercise increase when combined with other lifestyle changes, such as weight reduction. To achieve maximum benefits, you should exercise moderately for about 300 minutes a week (which works out to about 42 minutes a day), but as little as 30 minutes a day will reduce your risk significantly.
2. Change Your Diet
Gradually change your diet over time for proactive heart disease prevention by increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats and fish, and low-fat dairy products, and reducing salt, sugar, and saturated/trans fats in the food you eat. According to the American Heart Association, a good guideline is to keep saturated fats to no more than 5% to 6% of your daily calorie intake.
Foods that have high concentrations of saturated and trans fats include red meat, dairy products (that are now low-fat or fat-free), deep fried foods, margarines, and many processed foods. Always check nutrition labels on the foods you choose—if you see “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated,” don’t put it in your grocery cart, because it contains trans-fat.
4. Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink
When it comes to heart disease prevention and alcohol, the word to remember is “moderation.” For women, that means no more than one drink a day. For men under the age of 65, it means no more than two drinks a day; for men over 65, it means no more than one drink a day. “One drink” is the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1-½ ounces of 80-proof liquors.
5. Keep Your Weight Down
Obesity is another significant factor which increases the risk of heart disease. The risk increases if much of your excess weight is in your abdomen. The number you see on the bathroom scale is unreliable as a measure of healthy weight, primarily because muscle weighs more than fat. A better guide is one which looks at your waist measurement. In general, if you’re a man with a waist measurement greater than 40 inches, you’re probably overweight. For women, your waist measurement shouldn’t be greater than 35 inches. To be safe, if you’re concerned that your weight could be unhealthy, check with your doctor for how to factor weight management into your list of ways to prevent heart disease.
6. Have Regular Check Ups
You can’t make smart decisions about your heart health unless you have regular screenings with your doctor. He or she can check to see if you have high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of cholesterol, or are overweight, and test for the presence of diabetes, all of which increase your risk of heart disease. Your doctor can then prescribe any necessary medications or recommend heart disease prevention changes in your lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Final Words on Ways to Prevent Heart Disease
The fact that your parents or grandparents suffered from heart disease doesn't necessarily mean that you will. How you live your life, in particular whether you smoke and drink, what you eat, how much you exercise, and how often you see your doctor for health screenings, are at least as important as your family history. If you want to avoid cardiovascular disease, follow this list of ways to prevent heart disease and start today to make the changes necessary to reduce your risk of heart disease.
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