Get Active: The facts are clear: By exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses its strength and ability to function well. Physical activity leads to living a longer, healthier life.
Control Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol - the soft, fat-like, waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in all your body's cells - is a major risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75% of blood cholesterol. The other 25% comes from the foods you eat.
LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. LDL cholesterol is naturally produced by the body, but many people inherit genes that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much you have.
It's important for all people to know their cholesterol level. Total blood cholesterol is the most common measurement of blood cholesterol. It's the number you receive as test results and is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). A cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher puts you in a high-risk category and is cause to take action.
To keep your cholesterol under control The American Heart Association recommends that you schedule a screening, eat foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat, maintain a healthy weight, and stay physically active.
Eat Better: You may be eating plenty of food, but your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but are lower in calories. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily from each of the four basic food groups.
Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber - and they're low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.
Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease. Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat. Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.
Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day.
Lose Weight: Among Americans age 20 and older, about two-thirds are overweight or obese (BMI of 25.0 kg/m2 and higher). Such statistics are alarming since obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease. If you have too much fat - especially if a lot of it is at your waist - you're at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.
If you're overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. When coming up with a fitness and nutrition plan to lose weight, it's crucial to understand your recommended calorie intake. In addition, be aware of the amount of food calories you're consuming versus the energy calories you're burning off with different levels of physical activity. It's a matter of balancing healthy eating (caloric energy) with the (molecular) energy that leaves your body through a healthy level of exercise.
Body mass index assesses your body weight relative to height. It's a useful, indirect measure of body composition because it correlates highly with body fat in most people. To calculate your exact BMI value, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide again by your height in inches. A body mass index or BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered healthy and present minimal risk for cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when the blood running through your arteries flows with too much force and puts pressure on your arteries, stretching them past their healthy limit and causing microscopic tears. Our body kicks into injury-healing mode to repair these tears with scar tissue, but this tissue traps plaque and white blood cells, which can form blockages, blood clots, and hardened, weakened arteries.
While there is no cure, high blood pressure is manageable. Even if your blood pressure is normal (less than 120 mm Hg systolic AND less than 80 mm Hg diastolic) and your goal is prevention only, lifestyle modifications can provide a prescription for healthy living.
These changes may reduce your blood pressure without the use of prescription medications: eating a heart-healthy diet and reducing sodium, enjoying physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco smoke.
By keeping your blood pressure in the healthy range, you are:
- Reducing your risk of vascular walls becoming overstretched
- Reducing your risk of your heart pumping harder to compensate for blockages
- Protecting your entire body so that your tissue receives regular supplies of blood that is rich in the oxygen it needs.
Reduce Blood Sugar: The American Heart Association considers diabetes one of the six major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.
Diabetes is treatable, but even when glucose levels are under control it greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, most people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
Diabetes can cause your blood sugar to rise to dangerous levels. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into our bodies' cells.
Pre-diabetes and subsequent type 2 diabetes usually results from insulin resistance. When insulin resistance or diabetes occur with other risk factors (such as obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides), the risk of heart disease and stroke rises even more.
When diabetes is detected, a doctor may prescribe changes in eating habits, weight control, exercise programs and medication to keep it in check. It's critical for people with diabetes to have regular check-ups. Work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your diabetes and control any other risk factors. For example, blood pressure for people with diabetes should be lower than 130/80 mm Hg.
Stop Smoking - Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis - the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries that can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Controlling or reversing atherosclerosis is an important part of preventing future heart attack or stroke.
Smoking by itself increases the risk of coronary heart disease. When it acts with the other factors, it greatly increases your risk from those factors, too. Smoking decreases your tolerance for physical activity and increases the tendency for blood to clot. It also decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. Your risks increase greatly if your smoke and have a family history of heart disease. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm. It increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery, too.
If you need support to quit smoking, look for programs through hospitals. Many states also have hotlines with trained staff to help you with quitting.
More women than men have been dying from heart disease related deaths for over 20 years. Women are by nature caregivers. This month is Heart Month. Start by taking care of yours! .