There's no better time than now to prevent heart disease. There are many ways you can act now to reduce your risk.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) has been called "the silent killer" because it is linked to a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney failure, often without any noticeable symptoms. Despite great strides in the research, treatment, and awareness of hypertension over the past 30 years, one in five Americans and about 60 percent of women between 65 and 74 have high blood pressure.
The best ways to lower your blood pressure are:
- Don't smoke.
- Exercise regularly.
- Follow a low-fat, low-sodium diet.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol to one drink per day.
- Reduce stress through relaxation exercises, such as yoga.
In cases in which high blood pressure can't be controlled by lifestyle changes alone, anti-hypertensive medications can help control the condition and keep your heart healthy.
The best way to protect your heart against heart disease is to quit smoking. Low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes won't help protect your heart-the only solution is to kick the habit completely. Even if you've smoked for most of your life, giving up cigarettes can help reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke. As soon as you quit, you also will begin to reduce your risk for developing lung cancer, other respiratory disorders and stroke. Check at your local hospital for support group information. St. John's Hospital hosts a weekly Nicotine Anonymous support group. You can also go to QUITPLAN.com or call 1-888-354-PLAN for help with creating a plan to quit smoking.
Weight and Diet
Being overweight (20 percent over normal weight guidelines for your frame and height) can increase your risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other medical problems. Being obese (more than 30 percent above healthy body weight) doubles the risk for heart disease. If you're overweight, develop a weight-reduction plan with your physician. Studies show that "fad diets" don't work consistently; controlling what you eat is only part of the challenge. To take the weight off (and keep it off), you need to make permanent lifestyle changes. Your physician may recommend that you consult with a registered dietitian (RD), who can help you develop a weight loss plan. The RD can help you follow a sensible diet and exercise regimen to achieve a healthy weight. The RD understands that these changes take time, so he or she can develop a gradual plan for changing food-intake patterns.
Regular exercise helps prevent heart attack and stroke by lowering blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, the bad kind) and raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, the good kind). Exercise also makes blood-vessel walls more flexible and, in turn, helps prevent hardening of the arteries. Regular exercise also can reduce your risk for developing diabetes and help keep your weight down.
You can reduce your heart disease risk by controlling stress. Stress brings on ischemia (constriction or narrowing of coronary arteries with a lack of blood flow to the heart), which can lead to a heart attack. According to researchers, "hardiness," or the ability to cope well with stress, depends on three things: challenge, control, and commitment. Try to interpret stressful situations as challenges, not threats, and then determine what you can control. Sometimes the only thing that you can control in a stressful situation is the way you respond, but that's a start. Make a commitment to be good to yourself by eating healthy, thinking positively, and sharing love.
One in four Americans have high blood cholesterol levels (240 mg/dL or higher), which is a major risk factor for heart disease. People with high cholesterol levels are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with normal levels. Although excess weight tends to increase your blood cholesterol levels, heredity and diet also contribute to the condition. High cholesterol can run in families, and people can raise their blood cholesterol levels by eating too much food that's high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Research shows that complementary and integrative therapies, such as yoga, also can help women lower their risk factors for heart disease. Relaxation methods take on added significance in light of recent studies that link heart disease to anger or irritability from mental stress. Adjusting your attitude is important to heart health, and relaxation exercises and yoga can help you manage stress. Additionally, studies show that not getting enough potassium, calcium, or magnesium in the foods you eat may cause hypertension. Eating foods rich in these nutrients can help control blood pressure. The best way to choose an alternative therapy practitioner is with the guidance of your physician.
To help reduce your risk for heart disease, people can measure their blood pressure regularly at home and at work, and they can bring records of their readings to their physician visits. These kits help monitor blood pressure in response to changes in diet and exercise, weight loss, or medication. Home cholesterol test kits measure total cholesterol and are fast, reliable, and easy to read. If used properly, they can help people control their cholesterol by monitoring its level on a regular basis. You can monitor changes based on changes in diet, exercise, weight loss, or medication.