Although heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., it is also one of the most preventable. Here are nine tips to stay heart smart—to prevent the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiac disease:
- Know your numbers. Certain measurements gathered through your blood, pulse, and other factors help gauge your heart health. Your doctor is able to explain the healthy ranges that are specific to you.
- Blood pressure: A blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 mmHg is ideal for healthy adults. If you have a health condition, talk to your doctor about your goal.
- Total cholesterol: A total cholesterol of less than 200mg/dL in healthy adults is ideal.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Your “bad” cholesterol that builds up in the walls of arteries, making them hard and narrow. The ideal goal is <100mg/dL.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Your “good” cholesterol that prevents bad cholesterol from building up in your arteries. The ideal goal is >60mg/dL.
- Triglycerides (TG): Fat molecules found in the bloodstream that, in excess, correlate with occurrence of coronary artery disease. The ideal goal is <150 mg/dL.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Within 20 minutes of stopping, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s. At 15 years, your risk of heart disease, including stroke, are reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
- Get moving. Participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days per week. Physical activity slows the building of plaque within arteries, lowers blood pressure, increases healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and helps in weight management. There are 1,440 minutes in every day—dedicating 30 for heart health seems so little!
- Cut the saturated fat. Eating foods high in saturated fat drives up LDL cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease. Replacing foods high in saturated fat with healthier options will help lower your cholesterol levels and protect your heart. Consider switching to avocado instead of cheese, sorbet instead of ice cream, yogurt instead of milk products, and salmon over ribeye.
- Control your blood pressure. Work with your doctor or dietitian to create a plan to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. Exercise and food choices low in sodium can help lower blood pressure. To learn more about healthy eating, download a free copy of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
- Mellow out. Stress—and how you cope with it—can impact heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, overeating, inactivity, and more. According to the American Heart Association, meditation can lower blood pressure; one study found a 48% decrease in heart attack and stroke risk in people who practiced meditation regularly. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of meditation four to five days a week.
- Teach kids healthy behaviors. When you make the effort to teach healthy behaviors to the kids in your life, you’re helping them develop habits that can stick through adulthood. Set an example by staying active as a family, preparing meals with fruits and vegetables, and taking time to relax and de-stress.
- Build—or be a part of—a support system. Creating a supportive environment is one of the best ways to cope with a diagnosis or take charge of your health. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with heart disease, take the time to be engaged with your medical practitioners and connect with friends and family.
- Rely on abundant resources. Stay informed. Never hesitate to ask your doctor for advice about prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease. The American Heart Association also offers a wealth of resources for healthy living, heart disease research, condition support, and more.
Sources: American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), World Health Organization, and American Red Cross.
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