Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is the world’s leading cause of death. In the United States alone, it’s responsible for more than 610,000 deaths per year. The good news is that 90% of heart disease cases are preventable. So, consider making the following lifestyle changes to lower your risk of heart disease and live a longer, healthier life.
#1) Reduce Stress
Protecting your heart from disease begins with reducing stress. While the exact link isn’t clear, most medical experts agree that stress is a risk factor in the development of heart disease. When you experience stress, certain things occur in your body, such as increased production of adrenaline and cortisol as well as elevated blood pressure and muscle tension.
Here are some tips to reduce stress and promote a healthy heart:
- Maintain an optimistic outlook on life
- Keep in contact with friends and family
- Engage in deep breathing or meditation exercises
- Read a book
- Take a hot bath before bedtime
- Cut back on caffeinated foods and beverages
- Limit your workweek to no more than 40 hours
#2) Regulate Cholesterol Levels
In addition to reducing stress, you can also lower your risk of heart disease by regulating your cholesterol levels. There are good and bad types of cholesterol, however. HDL is considered the good cholesterol, whereas LDL is the bad. When HDL cholesterol in your blood drops under 40 or LDL rises over 160, you’ll have a greater risk of developing heart disease than someone with healthy cholesterol levels.
It’s important to note that dietary cholesterol — the kind found in foods — does not necessarily affect your blood cholesterol levels. A single egg, for instance, has roughly 182 mg of dietary cholesterol, but consuming them daily won’t raise your LDL blood cholesterol levels.
To promote healthy cholesterol levels in your blood, cut back on saturated fats like those founds in red meat and dairy. Instead, eat more foods rich in omega-3s, such as flaxseed, fish, spinach and nuts.
#3) Control Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is dubbed “the silent killer,” as symptoms are typically subtle and go unnoticed. But when your blood pressure rises beyond normal levels, it breaks down the lining of the blood vessels while subsequently increasing your risk of heart disease.
Doctors typically define high blood pressure (hypertension) as being any reading over 140/90. To protect against heart disease, invest in an at-home blood pressure monitoring device and monitor your blood pressure daily. If dieting and exercise alone isn’t enough to keep your blood pressure in check, discuss medication options with your doctor. Common medications used to treat high blood pressure include thiazide diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta blockers.
#4) Don’t Smoke
Whether you’re a “social” smoker or someone who goes through two packs a day, you should kick the habit now. With more than 4,000 chemicals, 43 of which are known to cause cancer, cigarette smoke takes a toll on your body in more ways than one. It increases the risk of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cancer and even heart disease. In fact, statistics show that up to 30% of all heart disease deaths in the United States are caused by smoking.
Even if you don’t personally smoke, you should avoid being around people who do. According to the CDC, inhaling secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke by 20% to 30%.
#4) Heart-Healthy Diet
Perhaps the most influential factor in determining your risk of heart disease is your diet. If you consume fatty, fried foods on a daily basis, you’ll naturally have a greater risk than someone who consumes a low-fat diet. However, one diet, in particular, is effective at protecting against heart disease: the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet centers around foods consumed by residents in the Mediterranean, including fish, olive oil, nuts, legumes vegetables and fruits. In comparison, the typical Western diet consists of red meat, processed carbohydrates and fried foods.
So, how does the Mediterranean diet promote a healthy heart? Researchers attribute its heart-healthy benefits to its polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These two fats are actually beneficial to your health because they lower HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol.
#5) Exercise Daily
There’s no other way around it: if you want a healthy heart, you need to exercise. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a sedentary lifestyle is one of five key risk factors of heart disease. Unfortunately, though, fewer than one in three Americans meet the exercise recommendations set forth by the AHA and CDC.
To put the importance of exercise into perspective, researchers say that up to 40% of all cardiovascular events can be avoided by meeting the minimal exercise recommendations. As per the AHA’s recommendations, strive for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per day.
#6) Maintain a Healthy Weight
Your weight will directly affect your risk of developing heart disease. Statistics show that people who are severely obese are four times more likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts with a healthy weight.
If you are overweight, your heart will have to work harder to pump blood; your arteries will probably be partially obstructed with fat; and you’ll have a greater risk of developing diabetes, which is another risk factor of heart disease.
#6) Manage Blood Sugar
Finally, keep your blood sugar levels in check. The higher your blood sugar, the greater your risk of developing diabetic heart disease (DHD). High glucose levels damage the blood vessels and nerves, increasing the risk of heart disease. So, strive for a blood sugar reading of 4.0 to 6.0 mmol/L when fasting or 5.0 to 7.8 mmol/L after eating.
Thankfully, diabetes and prediabetes is manageable through diet, exercise and medication. By managing your blood sugar levels, you’ll promote a healthier heart while lowering your risk of disease.
No method is 100% effective at preventing heart disease. However, implementing the lifestyle changes mentioned here can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease as well as other forms of chronic illness.