Although heart disease is serious, it’s also very preventable if you’re willing to practice some healthy habits.
Keeping our hearts strong is the key to a long, healthy life, and the dangers of failing to do so are very real. In 2015 and 2016 — the most recent years for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published mortality rates — heart disease accounted for 23% of all deaths, topping both cancer and accidents.
Fortunately, heart disease, heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes are all preventable. In fact, it’s estimated that around 80% of cardiovascular ailments can be avoided by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and regularly monitoring important indicators of your cardiovascular health. Here’s what you need to know to keep your heart strong throughout your life.
A Checklist for Your Heart Health
Having a family history of the disease increases your risk of heart disease. Your risk also rises as you grow older. And while these factors are out of your control, you can support your cardiovascular health by putting the following seven tips into action:
- Stop smoking. Cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that damage blood vessels. When these blood vessels narrow, plaque accumulates, cutting off blood flow to the heart and leading to atherosclerosis — a leading risk factor for heart attacks. Simply put, if you smoke, quit now. Doing so will greatly reduce your risk of experiencing a heart attack down the line.
- Exercise. A half-hour of moderate exercise five times per week is key to maintaining a healthy heart. You can meet this benchmark by taking a brisk walk or engaging in other aerobic activities like cycling or swimming. Of course, you can combine these moderate workouts with more vigorous exercises like running, and if you’re able to, it’s recommended that you strength train at least two days per week. That said, you don’t necessarily need to follow a formal exercise program to stay healthy. Working around the house, gardening, and walking up stairs all count as exercise.
- Control your weight. Another benefit of exercise is that it maintains your weight at an ideal level. Carrying extra pounds multiplies your chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol — all of which have been implicated in heart disease. In most cases, you can mitigate these conditions by losing weight.
- Know your vital numbers. Starting at an early age, you should get your vital numbers checked by a doctor. What are these numbers? They are the metrics that measure your blood pressure, blood sugar, bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides (a type of fat). A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is considered healthy, while your LDL should be less than 70 milligrams per deciliter. Further, not unlike smoking, high blood sugar damages blood vessels, so you need to be regularly tested for diabetes.
- Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep not only makes you tired, but is also potentially damaging to your heart. When we don’t sleep for seven to nine hours per night, our risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes rises. People who suffer from sleep apnea — an inability to sleep through the night because of interrupted breathing — are at a higher risk for heart disease. As such, if you have sleep apnea — or any other condition that prevents you from sleeping — it’s important to talk to your doctor about treatment options.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Instead of consuming foods high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, consider following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. DASH meals are filled with vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. Following the DASH diet reduces your risk of hypertension and diabetes in addition to lowering bad cholesterol.
- Consult a cardiologist. Starting in your 20s, you should see a cardiologist to have your current heart status evaluated with an electrocardiogram and/or other diagnostic tests. Following your initial assessment, track your cardiovascular health by receiving regular blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol screenings. Any changes in these numbers can be managed with medication. At the end of the day, dealing with any sign of heart disease early will prevent more serious problems down the road.
We Care for Your Heart
The doctors at Tri-City Cardiology are experts in cardiovascular care. Diagnosing and treating heart problems and vascular disorders is our specialty. Your heart health is important to us, so make an appointment today to keep your heart strong for many years to come.