Cardiovascular disease is a big deal. According to the CDC, around 610,000 Americans die from heart disease every year. Additionally, nearly 735,000 people have a heart attack in the United States every year. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women of most ethnicities in the United States, it’s important to keep up with these heart-healthy habits. Be sure to consult with a physician before making any significant diet or lifestyle changes to ensure safety.
Food doesn’t just fuel the body, it provides nutrients to all of the body’s organs in order to ensure that they work properly, including the heart. Here are a few eating habit changes to help that ticker.
Overeating can often lead to weight gain which puts unnecessary strain on the heart. There are simple ways to control portion size without compromising any enjoyment of mealtime. Consider using a smaller plate or bowl for high-calorie and high-sodium foods and eating larger portions of nutrient-rich and low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables. It’s important to pay attention to serving sizes, and it may be necessary to use measuring cups or a food scale for a while to get used to this new habit.
Fiber is an essential factor in regulating blood pressure and heart health. Simply substituting refined grains such as white bread or doughnuts for whole-grain products such as oatmeal or whole-grain bread can make a difference for heart and overall health. Other refined grains to be avoided for the heart’s sake include cakes, buttered popcorn, and frozen waffles.
It’s important to limit the amount of saturated and trans fats consumed in order for the heart to stay healthy. No more than five to six percent of daily calories should be from saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans fats completely. It’s easy to reduce the amount of fat eaten on a daily basis. For example, trimming fat off of meat or adding less butter while cooking can help. Additionally, instead of using bacon fat to cook food, consider using olive oil or canola oil. Avocados and ground flaxseed are sources of “good” fats for when that craving hits.
Reduce Sodium Intake
High sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (one teaspoon). An easy way to reduce salt intake is to pay attention to condiments and how much salt is added while cooking and serving. Another way to reduce the amount of salt eaten on a daily basis is to limit or avoid processed and canned foods. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables when possible is a great way to reduce salt intake.
Exercise is another important element of heart health. Physical activity on a regular basis can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. The United States Surgeon General recommends that adults get at least two and a half hours of moderately intense exercise every week. This includes activities like bike-riding and walking at a brisk pace. Exercise can also help maintain a healthy weight, which is an important factor when considering an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
Get Up and Move Around
Recent research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle can significantly increase risk for heart disease, even with regular exercise. This isn’t great news for people with office jobs who are required to stay sitting for most of the day. However, there are a few undemanding ways to increase movement throughout the day. Parking further away from the office, taking a few short walks throughout the workday, and using a standing desk can help.
Cigarette smoking significantly impacts the likelihood of developing heart disease. Avoiding cigarette smoke, both from smoking and from secondhand smoke, can remarkably lower an individual’s risk for heart problems in the future. The chemicals in cigarette smoke contribute to plaque buildup in arteries. According to the American Heart Association, cigarette smoke is associated with 34,000 heart disease deaths in the United States annually. Numerous resources are available for those looking for help to quit smoking. Consult a physician for options (including prescription medication), tips, and other ways to help quit smoking.
Practice Good Dental Hygiene
This one may seem counterintuitive. However, dental health is often a great indicator of a person’s overall health. Those at risk for periodontal disease are also often at risk for heart disease. Flossing daily and toothbrushing after every meal can keep dental issues at bay, and may also help keep risks of both heart disease and stroke down.
Sleep Well and Often
Getting a good amount of sleep every night has multiple benefits for overall health. Sleep is essential; research has suggested that adults over the age of 45 who sleep more than six hours a night have about half the amount of risk of stroke or heart attack than those who get less than six hours of sleep a night. Poor sleep may contribute to the disruption of certain biological processes important to heart health, including blood pressure maintenance.
To improve sleep quality, try to avoid exposure to screens just before bed. Try reading instead. Additionally, consider eating a bit earlier in the evening, as eating close to bedtime can disrupt sleep for some people.
Consult a Physician
Before making any significant changes to diet or lifestyle, talk to a primary care physician to develop an achievable plan to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some diet changes may not be advisable or feasible for some adults. Also, depending on overall health, certain levels of exercise may not be recommended for an individual to undertake at once, and a gradual increase in the amount of physical activity may be more appropriate.