Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, with roughly one-in-five deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease. While heart disease is most-often associated with men, the numbers don’t lie. Nearly as many women as men die from heart disease every year.
Let’s talk about a few ways to stay heart-healthy and decrease the prevalence of cardiovascular disease together!
Know the Facts: The Main Risk Factors For Heart Disease
The main factors for developing heart disease are obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
In the United States, nearly 74% of adults are classified as overweight or obese. That excess body fat not only causes increased strain on the body (and the heart), but it is often linked to higher “bad” cholesterol levels and lower “good” cholesterol levels. Obesity can also lead to other complications, like diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and stroke.
High Blood Pressure
When the blood pressure in your arteries and blood vessels is too high, it significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease. High blood pressure makes those arteries and blood vessels less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. Over time, this causes damage to vital organs, including the kidneys, brain, and heart.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is both produced by the liver and found in many of the foods we eat. If we take in excess cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of the arteries, which causes them to narrow and decreases blood flow to the heart. There is both “good” cholesterol, which provides protection against heart disease; and “bad” cholesterol, which causes plaque buildup in your arteries.
Tobacco use harms every organ in the body–including the heart. The chemicals in cigarette smoke cause blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed, which over time leads to a laundry-list of negative cardiovascular conditions, including heart disease.
What About Genetics?
Lifestyle factors like diet and exercise play a pivotal role in developing heart disease, but what about genetics? What role do hereditary factors play?
While genetic factors may play a role in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, common environments may be just as much to blame.
With that said, the risk for heart disease may increase dramatically if you have a family history and unhealthy risk factors, like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or alcohol/cigarette use.
Tips to Stay Heart Healthy
Knowing the risk factors is only half the battle. While abstaining from cigarettes is straight-forward, how can you stay on top of your cholesterol levels, keep your blood pressure down, and keep your weight at a healthy level?
Here are a few tips!
Your liver produces enough cholesterol for your body’s needs. That means more often than not, you’re probably taking in more cholesterol than you need–without even knowing it!
High cholesterol also has no symptoms. The only way to know your levels is to have your cholesterol checked. Your doctor can perform a simple test, called a “lipid profile” to measure your cholesterol levels. If you’re concerned about your diet, be sure to ask your doctor for a lipid profile test at your next visit!
Outside of a medical setting, there is no safe, proven way to (quickly) lower blood pressure. Some people develop HBP as a result of genetics, while others as a result of diet, lifestyle, stress, or other factors.
Being physically active at least 30 minutes a day, eating a diet low in sodium, reducing alcohol intake, and productively managing stress can all improve your blood pressure–and overall health.
Keeping your weight–and more importantly, your body mass index (BMI) at healthy levels will help reduce the risks of negative cardiovascular conditions and cardiovascular disease.
That means eating a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol. Strive for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins (like fish, seafood, and plants), and minimally processed foods.
Even if you have no other risk factors, physical inactivity can dramatically increase your risk of developing heart disease. Regular physical activity–at least 30 minutes a day–can keep you active and heart-healthy!
There are even a few specific heart-healthy exercises you can do, including aerobics, resistance training, and stretching, flexibility & balance!
Keep An Open Dialogue With Your Health Care Team
While you can eat a healthy diet, abstain from alcohol and smoking, and get regular exercise, only your doctor can keep accurate tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol.
That means it’s more important than ever to talk with your healthcare team. Be sure to ask for a lipid profile and keep tabs on your blood pressure readings at every visit.
For more, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for tips, strategies, or help!
What Are The Symptoms of Heart Disease?
Heart disease can affect anyone at any time, so it’s important to know the early warning signs and symptoms.
The symptoms of heart disease include:
•Shortness of breath
•Swelling in the legs
Heart disease can manifest in other forms, like arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, and more.
If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms or think yourself at immediate risk, call 911 immediately!
Recap: Keep Your Heart Healthy!
Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease. It can happen to anyone at any time, but the risk goes up as you get older.
Knowing the risk factors, including your family history, is a key part of staying heart healthy.
Sticking to a healthy diet, getting plenty of physical activity, and avoiding alcohol and smoking is just as important as regularly seeing your healthcare team.
Together, we can reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in the United States!