Heart disease is a widespread killer. The CDC reports that one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease, and it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women.
These numbers are alarming — but you don’t have to resign to becoming a statistic. It is possible to prevent heart disease. There are many steps you can take to lower your risk, and you can start today.
Keep blood pressure in check
High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease. Most adults should get their blood pressure checked once a year at a minimum. If your blood pressure is high, take steps to lower it. This includes:
- Exercising regularly (aim for five times per week for 30 minutes each time)
- Avoiding processed foods, especially those with extra sodium (salt)
- Eating a healthy, plant-based diet
- Not smoking
- Taking blood pressure medications, if needed, as prescribed by your doctor
Control cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Some people are prone to unhealthy cholesterol or triglyceride levels because of their genetics. However, some lifestyle changes can help lower both of these factors.
Eating sugar is a major cause of high triglycerides. Even if you don’t have high triglycerides now, you can take one simple step to keep them in a healthy range: skip the sugar. Replace sugary foods with fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins. The liver has to process the fructose in sugar, which makes it release fats (triglycerides) into the blood.
You can lower your cholesterol the same way you would lower blood pressure: by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. If high cholesterol runs in your family, you may have to be even more diligent about these healthy habits.
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you could do for your health. Smoking cigarettes raises blood pressure, putting you at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. It also encourages unhealthy plaque to build up in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The good news is, as soon as you quit, your body starts to get healthier again. Your risk of a heart attack declines within just one day of quitting. One year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of someone who’s still smoking.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start!
Take steps to avoid diabetes — or keep it under control
If you don’t have diabetes, make sure you know how to prevent it. This includes:
- Getting regular exercise
- Cutting out sugar and processed foods
- Attaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking — or quitting if you do smoke
- Eating a plant-based diet, avoiding high amounts of animal proteins
If you already have diabetes, however, there are plenty of things you can do to keep it under good control. This will not only reduce your risk of heart disease, but it will also help you avoid other potentially dangerous complications like eye problems, neuropathy in the feet, and kidney damage.
To keep diabetes under control, take medications exactly as prescribed and see your doctor regularly for checkups. In addition, following the diabetes prevention strategies listed here — exercise, healthy diet, and not smoking — will help you feel your best and keep your diabetes under control.
Experts don’t know for sure that stress directly causes heart disease, but we do know it’s hard on your body in general. Stress hormones can cause you to gain weight, which increases the risk of heart disease. It may also tempt you into unhealthy eating habits. Finally, stress can contribute to loss of sleep, which can raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Find healthy outlets to relieve stress, like exercise. Physical activity is a natural stress reducer with plenty of other health benefits. You may also wish to try deep breathing, guided imagery, yoga, or meditation.
Replace processed and red meat with fatty fish
Switch up the types of proteins you eat to make your heart healthier. Healthy fats, especially omega-3s found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A medical review found that processed meat like bacon and hot dogs may increase the risk of heart disease. Another review of two cohort studies found that eating red meat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. If you do eat red meat occasionally, make sure it’s grass-fed and organic.
Factors out of your control
Finally, it’s important to be aware of some other risk factors that are beyond your control. This can give you a better idea of your individual risk and how often you may need to see your doctor for routine checks.
Risk factors we cannot change or control include:
- Age. as we get older, the risk of getting heart disease increases. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 have a higher risk than younger people. Post-menopausal women have a higher risk of heart disease because of a drop in estrogen.
- Genetics. If you have a close relative who had or has heart disease — especially at a younger age — you may have a higher risk as well.
- Race and ethnic background. African Americans and South Asians have higher rates of heart disease. Hispanic Americans and East Asians tend to have lower rates.
Preventing heart disease is doable
You’re probably seeing a common theme here: avoiding heart disease takes extra effort when it comes to diet, exercise, and weight control. But don’t let the idea of a healthier lifestyle overwhelm you. Instead, try to make one or two healthy changes today, and add more as you master the first ones.
In time, you may find that living a healthy lifestyle comes more naturally to you. A regular exercise habit and diet changes become easier to do the longer you stick with them.
Getting healthy is about more than appearance — it’s about feeling great and keeping your whole body healthy. Garcia Weight Loss offers personalized weight-loss programs that can help you reach your health goals, including a healthy heart. Request your no-cost consultation today!