Do you know someone who has heart disease? Chances are you do. More than 27 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition. If you don’t want to join them, you can take steps to reduce your personal risk of heart disease.
Eat healthy. A healthy diet includes a variety of grains (especially whole grains), fruits and vegetables. Opt for foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugar and salt. Choose fish, poultry and lean cuts of meat, as well as low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit the number of egg yolks and cut down on processed cold cuts. When preparing food, broil, bake, roast or poach instead of frying, and tame snack attacks with low-fat options, such as animal crackers, melba toast or fat-free yogurt.
Exercise regularly. As little as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week is all you need to protect heart health. Don’t like to exercise? No sweat. Good ways to keep your heart healthy include brisk walking, riding a bike, hiking, dancing, swimming, physical tasks around the house, raking leaves or painting a room. Other ways to work exercise into your day include taking the stairs when possible, or parking farther away from the office and then walking the added distance.
Don’t smoke. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is “the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.” The risk of having a heart attack is six times higher for smokers compared to nonsmokers, with the chances increasing depending on the number of cigarettes smoked daily. Quitting smoking lowers the risk of heart disease immediately — and just one year of not smoking can cut heart disease risk in half.
Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight can be calculated by looking at either body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference. BMI, a calculation based on height and weight, of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is obese. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other serious health conditions. A weight loss of just five to 10 percent of current weight can help lower the risk for heart disease. Gradual weight loss of one-half to two pounds per week is recommended to ensure long-term success.
In addition to making lifestyle changes, you also should have blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. Hypertension of 140/90 mmHg or higher is a major risk factor for heart disease that usually doesn’t cause symptoms. Total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL and above is an indication of too much cholesterol that can eventually accumulate on artery walls, making them narrow and impeding blood flow to the heart. It is important to remember that regardless of your age or current state of health, it’s never too late to take steps to protect your heart. For more information about heart health, talk with your doctor or call 1-800-483-6385 for a free referral to a cardiologist near you.