By Caroline May, NBC-HWC – Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the number one cause of death worldwide in 2016, claiming 17 million lives. This is almost double the number of people whose lives were taken by cancer, which was the second most deadly disease that year. CVD, which includes the heart and its blood vessels, may be prevented, managed, and corrected by lifestyle adjustments. Why wait until something happens to make a change? Learn about 6 ways to take better care of your heart.
1. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Suggested diets for a strong heart often emphasize the consumption of healthy fats like omega-3s found in fish and walnuts. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends “eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day and limiting your salt intake to less than one teaspoon a day” as a way to help minimize the risk of heart attack and stroke. In a BBC news article, James Gallagher refers to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as “cardioprotective,” as they can lower the risk of heart problems.*
Monitoring your food intake is just one step in managing your weight, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Drinking water instead of sugary juices or sodas can also help decrease total calories, as well as add to a feeling of satiety and hydrate every cell in your body.
2. Be smoke-free
Smoking damages your heart muscle and blood vessels. However, as soon as you stop smoking, you start reversing the damage done. If you need help quitting, many employers offer access to tobacco-cessation programs through their employee wellbeing programs.
3. Challenge yourself with regular exercise*
The WHO recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, every day, to help prevent heart attack and stroke. To get the most from your exercise time, keep within your target heart range or take note of your effort. If your heart is really pumping, you are strengthening it. Meandering as you walk is not the same benefit as working up a sweat. See “Exercise Intensity, How to Measure It” for more information. Also, talk with your doctor to discover your heart rate target.
4. Manage your stress
When stress hormones stay elevated, such as in chronic stress situations, your heart health pays a price. Explore strategies that help you feel calm. Often, exercise is cited as a stress reducer. Other de-stressors include deep breathing, yoga, prayer, hobbies, meditation, sleep, laughing, and learning to protect your time.
5. Brush and floss
That may sound like an unusual way to protect your heart, but study findings support the idea that the bacteria in your mouth can threaten your heart health. In one 2012 clinical trial, 200 men and women in Western Uttar Pradesh, India, were separated into two broad groups according to whether or not they had CVD. Then, they were further divided by age groups and other chronic diseases. The results demonstrated an association between participants with CVD, diabetes, and poor levels of oral hygiene. Other research points to the inflammation that accompanies gum disease as the link to chronic health conditions like CVD.
6. Start now
Develop the mindset that you have control over your health. Take steps like brushing and flossing your teeth a couple of times a day and seeing your health care provider for checkups that can alert you to unhealthy risk factors. Drink water and go for a walk to kick-off your healthy habits. Track your progress to keep up the motivation. Reward yourself with activities that help you reduce stress.
You cannot change your DNA, but you can change the choices you make each day in order to reduce known health risks like being overweight and overly stressed. Take comfort in the thought that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain and all other systems.
*Always consult a physician before making changes to your diet or beginning a new exercise program.
This article is meant for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Individuals should consult their health care providers to discuss health risks and preventative measures.
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