5 Factors that Impact Your Heart Health
Our hearts impact our health and well-being in many ways, and there are a number of different factors that determine whether the heart functions optimally. Heart disease represents one of the most prevalent threats against our health. While it's common to think of heart disease as a single issue, it is an overarching term that includes heart rhythm issues, heart attacks, coronary disease and more.
There are various types of heart disease and different things that cause heart problems. For example, heart rhythm disorder or heart arrhythmia is a form of heart disease where there is a problem with the heartbeat's rhythm. It can be caused by a congenital heart defect present at birth or something we play a role in, like smoking, stress or taking certain substances or medicines. Heart failure is a severe form of heart disease that occurs after the heart has been weakened. High blood pressure and heart attacks are the two most common causes of heart failure.
Regardless of which type of heart disease you are trying to prevent, there are certain things you should be aware of generally. The following factors impact heart health across the board. If your doctor has instructed you to pay more attention to your heart, these are the factors you should be aware of.
How Much You Move
The average American works eight hours a day and spends another half hour on average sitting in a car. We also spend more time at night on our computers or in front of the TV. A sedentary lifestyle harms the heart, and lack of exercise is strongly correlated to an array of heart disease conditions. It may not feel like you are spending that much time sitting each day, but it adds up over time.
So what can you do? Being aware of the problem is the first step. If you're having trouble remembering to get up and move, a fitness tracker can be an excellent solution for some people. Most offer a gentle reminder that it's time to move around about once per hour. If you’re looking for a wearable device to measure your daily activity, here are some suggestions for which one may work best for you.
Look for ways to fold walking into your daily routines. If you are working in an office, take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you live within walking distance of a store, go on foot instead of driving if the weather and your errands permit. Volunteering or joining a recreational sports league are two great ways to build activity into your life while meeting new people. Your newfound commitment to physical activity will reduce your odds of heart disease, improve your endurance and may even lift your mood.
Age and Gender
Some heart disease risk factors are totally out of your control, and among these are age and sex. The elderly are at a greater risk for heart disease because the aging process often damages or narrows the arteries. Aging also has the potential to weaken the heart muscle.
Biological sex also impacts heart health. Men are more likely to suffer from heart disease than women. It’s worth noting that women are at a higher risk for heart disease after menopause. Men and post-menopausal women should be aware of their heightened risk, keep up with their doctor visits and make an extra effort to eat healthily and be physically active.
Did you know that heart attack symptoms can differ for men and women? Learn the differences between the genders.
Take the first steps toward a healthy heart. Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist at ochsner.org/cardio
Doctors universally agree that the consumption of nicotine constricts blood vessels. The carbon monoxide in cigarettes also has the potential to damage the inner lining of the blood vessels, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis. As a result, smokers are much more likely to suffer a heart attack than nonsmokers.
If you smoke, you should absolutely try to quit. If you need motivation for what life on the other side of smoking looks like, here are eight reasons why your body will thank you for a smoke-free life.
An individual’s genetics play an important part in heart health. Those with family members who have experienced heart disease are more susceptible to heart problems. This is especially true for people with a family history of coronary artery disease, especially if it is a parent who developed the condition before their late 50s or early 60s.
My advice here is to understand your risk. Talk to your family members, especially your parents, to find out if heart disease or heart problems run in your family. If you have a family risk of heart attacks or heart disease, you’ll need to be more vigilant in prevention and communicate with your doctor about your family history.
People who regularly consume foods that are high in salt, fat, cholesterol and sugar are at extraordinarily high risk for heart disease. Poor diet leads to high blood cholesterol levels that significantly boost the chances of plaque formation. A poor diet can also cause obesity and diabetes, both of which put you at risk for heart disease.
Think about what your diet currently looks like. Those who consume large amounts of ultra-processed foods like deli meats, sugary breakfast cereals and drinks, potato chips and frozen pizzas should make the effort to eat a more balanced diet.
Substitute leafy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables in place of foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. Eating for your heart doesn't have to be hard or boring. Familiarize yourself with these key heart healthy foods for every meal to stay on track.
Though you can’t control all of the variables that determine heart health, you can be proactive to reduce your odds of developing heart disease. Be conscious of your diet, your physical activity and your family’s heart health history. By working with your primary care doctor or cardiologist, you will keep your heart as healthy as possible!
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 10, 2017.