Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States each year. While most people are somewhat familiar with this fact, very few do anything to actively prevent it. Do you make heart health a priority in your life?
The Prevalence of Heart Disease
Even if nobody in your immediately family has dealt with heart issues in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to heart disease. According to the CDC, roughly 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States each year. That accounts for one out of every four deaths. Coronary heart disease is the most common culprit, claiming 370,000 lives annually.
Data shows that 47 percent of all Americans have at least one of the risk factors for heart disease, which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, diabetes, obesity, poor dietary habits, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.
Four Ways to Reduce Your Risk
There are some situations where heart disease is hereditary, but in most cases, it’s preventable. Even if certain risk factors run in the family, you can greatly reduce your risk by taking the following four measures:
1. Stop Smoking
If you’re a smoker, the very first thing you need to do is quit. The Surgeon General has called smoking “the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.” And while it can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by itself, smoking is particularly dangerous when combined with other factors.
Smoking has been shown to increase blood pressure and decrease exercise tolerance. When combined with a family history of heart disease, smoking is even riskier.
People often say that they only smoke occasionally, but when it comes to heart disease prevention, there’s no amount that’s safe. Even social smokers – those who have a couple of cigarettes on the weekend – face a higher risk of heart disease than the non-smoking population.
2. Get Regular Exercise
“The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to stay in shape,” Healthline.com reminds us. “When it’s exercised, the heart can pump more blood through the body and continue working at optimal efficiency with little strain. This will likely help it to stay healthy longer. Regular exercise also helps to keep arteries and other blood vessels flexible, ensuring good blood flow and normal blood pressure and cholesterol.”
The good news is that you don’t have to spend two or three hours a day in the gym to prevent heart disease. Research shows that just 30 minutes per day, five days per week can improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease. There’s even reason to believe that you can split those 30 minutes up into three 10-minute sessions, which means nobody has an excuse for not getting in some physical activity.
3. Eat Healthy
Staying healthy doesn’t stop when you leave the gym. It’s just as important that you care for your body after you get home and find yourself in the kitchen snacking or preparing meals. In fact, it could be argued that your diet is the single most important factor in staying heart healthy.
According to research, those who eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fish lower their risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by a whopping 35 percent. The study followed those with a history of heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes and found that healthy eaters were 28 percent less likely to develop congestive heart failure.
Whereas greasy and fatty foods can be bad for your arteries, there are a number of heart healthy foods that also happen to be delicious. Some of the top options include salmon, oatmeal, dark chocolate, soy, nuts, legumes, red wine, green tea, flax seed, and avocado.
4. Control High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure plays another major role in the development of heart disease. The good news, however, is that those who cease smoking, exercise regularly, and eat healthy are much less likely to suffer from high blood pressure. With that being said, other factors, like family history and stress, can come into play.
If a healthy lifestyle doesn’t control your high blood pressure, you may need to talk with your doctor about medication and other options. This is something you can’t afford to ignore. Developing a strategy now will help you later in life.
It’s Time to Take Action
Heart disease isn’t something you should take lightly. It’s the number one killer of men and women in the United States and is directly tied to lifestyle habits in most cases. By quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, eating healthy, and controlling high blood pressure, you can greatly decrease your risk of dealing with this prevalent disease.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to get serious about heart health.