February is Healthy Heart month and All Care is pleased to publish a blog series about heart disease, its effects, warning signs, and how to incorporate healthy habits to increase the health of your heart.
Part II: Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any type of disorder that affects the heart. Heart disease means the same as cardiac disease but not cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to disorders of the blood vessels and heart, while heart disease refers to just the heart.
While certain risk factors of heart disease are completely out of one’s control (family history, age, and gender, for example), other risk factors such as weight, cholesterol level, stress, diabetes, and high blood pressure can all be addressed to help the prevention of heart disease. There are many different risk factors for heart disease, some which are avoidable while others are genetic; for example, a woman can’t change her gender to alter her risk for heart disease but she can take the necessary steps to keep her heart healthy. Before you can take the necessary steps to reduce your risk of heart disease, it’s important to first understand what some of those risks are.
Risk Factors – and How You Can Reduce Them
In this blog we will explore 7 Common Heart Disease Risk Factors and How to Reduce Them while also exploring simple steps to take to insure the reduction of added risk in your lifestyle.
7 Major Risk Factors of Heart Disease & How to Reduce Them
- Smoking–Don’t Do It. Did you know smokers are twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as nonsmokers and are more likely to die as a result? Cigarette smoking is by far the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease in women however the risk of cardiovascular disease begins to decline within months of quitting and reaches the level of people who have never smoked within 3-5 years of smoking cessation. (Just as a side note, women who smoke and take an oral contraceptive are at particularly high risk of heart disease and stroke)
- High Cholesterol Count- Get it Down! Extra cholesterol in the blood settles on the inner walls of the arteries, hardening and narrowing them allowing for less and less blood to pass through them to reach the heart. The higher the blood cholesterol level, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease, especially if combined with any other risk factors. Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol which can lead to heart disease and stroke. You want to aim for total cholesterol below 200mg/dL; LDL cholesterol below 130mg/dL and HDL above 35 mg/dL. You can learn to decrease your cholesterol though healthy diet choices and an active lifestyle which we will be addressing later on in our February Heart Health Blog Series.
- Weight- Maintain a Healthy One! Approximately 66% of Americans over the age of 20 are categorized as “obese,” meaning they have a BMI of 30 or above (translating roughly to 30 or more pounds overweight). Even if there are no other risk factors present, people who are overweight are more likely to develop heart disease and suffer a stroke than people who maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight causes excess stress on your heart; it causes extra strain on the heart, influences blood pressure, cholesterol, and other levels of blood fats, including triglycerides, and increases the risk of developing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce insulin resistance and the risk of developing diabetes.
- Diet & Exercise-Make Them a Priority! Everyone (should) know that regular exercise is a necessity of a healthy lifestyle. But did you know studies have found that even moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking can significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease while failure to exercise can lead to an increased risk of coronary heart disease? Physical activity helps to control weight, cholesterol levels, diabetes, and in a lot of cases, help to lower high blood pressure. Walking or other moderate exercises for 30 minutes five times a week or vigorous workouts for at least 20 minutes three times a week can help to increase your level of activity and help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Making a healthy diet a priority by avoiding trans-fat, saturated fat, and sodium will help to reduce your health risks. Diets low in saturated fats and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have also found that eating fruits and vegetables, specifically vitamin-C rich fruits and leafy green vegetables, have a protective effect against coronary heart disease.
- Alcohol-Everything in Moderation! By now everyone has probably heard from one study or another claiming that a glass of red wine a day can help to prevent heart disease but did you know that a study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that men who drank one beer a day for one month lowered their cholesterol levels, increased their blood levels of heart-healthy antioxidants, and reduced their levels of fibrinogen, a protein that contributes to blood clots. A glass of red wine might even have better effects, but be sure to choose one or the other-not both. Moderate intake of alcohol is related to the reduction of cardiovascular disease but excessive use can lead to raised blood pressure, increased risk of breast cancer, and weight gain. Small consumption is recommended, ½ to 1 drink a day for women and 1-2 drinks per day for men.
- Medical History-Prevent What You Can’t Control You can’t change the fact that your father and grandfather passed from heart disease or that all your aunts suffered from diabetes. You might have a thyroid condition which makes it difficult to maintain your weight or you may suffer from a chronic illness that makes regular exercise and physical activity nearly impossible. This doesn’t mean you have to be resigned to a future riddled with heart disease and other ailments! You can arm yourself with risk-reducing vitamins and herbs. Antioxidant vitamin supplements play promising roles in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The B Vitamins, especially folic acid and B12, will drive elevated homocysteine (one of the 20 amino acids usually associated with heart attack, stroke, and blood clots) levels down to normal, often without the need of any prescription medication. Discuss with your healthcare provider what other supplements would be beneficial in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Some to discuss would be bilberry, ginger, magnesium, niacin, soy, fish oils, garlic, and ginkgo, among others. At risk individuals should also consult their doctor to see if a daily baby aspirin should be introduced to help prevent heart attack and other cardiovascular issues.
- Stress Management-A Must! Stress, depression, hostility, and other negative emotions have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Poorly managed stress can have an adverse effect on blood lipids and an attitude of hostility has been powerfully linked with a high rate of cardiac events while cynicism and the inability to trust has been associated with accelerated progression of carotid artery disease. A lack of sleep also increases the level of stress hormone in our bodies which also contributes to the risk of developing cardiac disease. Incorporating relaxation methods into your daily routine will help to decrease stress, increase exercise tolerance, and decrease the electrical changes associated with poor circulation to the heart. Meditating has been shown to lower cholesterol and actually reverse carotid artery thickening. Acupuncture is also something to seriously consider, not only has it proven to relax the myocardium and improve circulation, it can be an excellent remedy for insomnia, GI tract issues, and reduce overall production of the stress hormone. Whatever relaxation method you choose, be sure to set aside a regular time during the day that you can meditate, practice yoga, deep breathing, adult coloring, or whatever it is that calms your mind and your spirit. Make this a recurring event in your daily calendar and you will see that the effect of just 15 minutes of relaxation can last the whole day.
Now that you’ve read about common risk factors and way to reduce them, here are more steps you can take to make sure your heart is as healthy as possible
Five Ways to Reduce Your Risk
- Choose a Heart Healthy Lifestyle! Engaging in regular moderate exercise five or more days a week, adopting lower sodium, low fat diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking, recreational drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption will help to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease
- Know Your Risk Factors! Know what risk factors directly correlate to your body and lifestyle, review them with your physician and together, devise a plan of action to help eliminate or reduce those risk factors as much as possible from your life.
- Medical Intervention & Screening- In some cases, it may be necessary to conduct health screenings to determine the nature and severity of the heart disease, these can be both invasive and non-invasive. Sometimes an angioplasty/stenting or bypass surgery may be required if you have a severe and symptomatic arterial blockage. Regular health screenings will help to decrease the risk of a cardiac crisis event.
- Medication Management- Sometimes making healthy choices with your diet and physical activity aren’t enough. Your doctor might recommend medications to control your cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. High risk individuals may be advised to take daily baby aspirins.
- Learn CPR! You don’t need to be a doctor or other healthcare professional to learn and know CPR, you never know when you might need it to save the life of a loved one or of a complete stranger. If you are with a person whose heart has stopped, administering immediate CPR is the most effective way to save that individual’s life, as an ambulance could take minutes to arrive. CPR could be the difference between life and death for someone who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped.
In continuation with our February Heart Health Blog Series, our next installment will explore, in more detail, fun, manageable, and healthy ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke without having to overhaul your entire lifestyle!