According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States You can make sure you don’t become a statistic by taking precautions to lower your risk of heart disease and planning toward a longer and healthier life. You may have heard that heart disease is the number one killer in men and women in the United States, yet only 1 in 5 people believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.
Take Action to Beat Heart Disease
There are some heart disease risk factors that are beyond your control: you can't change your gender, your family history or your age. However, there are many lifestyle risk factors that can be changed. You can help lower your risk for developing heart disease by making a few simple, positive changes. Even if you already have heart disease, doing these things can help you prevent a future heart attacks and help to keep your heart healthy.
Smoking can tremendously increase your risk of developing heart disease.. In fact, smokers may have up to five times increased risk for developing heart disease. If you smoke and already have heart disease, it’s not too late to make a change. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of sudden cardiac death, a second heart attack and death from other chronic diseases. Quitting smoking can often lower your risk as much as, or more than, common medicines used to manage heart disease.
Get help quitting tobacco for good with Ochsner’s Tobacco Control & Prevention Program.
Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the most dangerous risk factors for heart disease and there are often no symptoms. That’s why it is extremely important to receive regular physicals and necessary blood tests to ensure your levels are within normal range. You can also protect yourself from developing high blood pressure by engaging in a healthy lifestyle. This includes making necessary dietary changes. Your diet should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as foods rich in potassium, fiber and protein. You should also try to limit foods high in salt and saturated fat. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life.
Additionally, you can control your blood pressure by managing your stress levels. Relaxation therapies and meditation can help in overcoming stressful situations and ultimately lead to better blood pressure.
High cholesterol can build up in the wall of the arteries of your body including the coronary arteries of the heart and form plaque. This plaque can block the blood flow to the heart and other organs. This is how high levels of LDL, or low-density lipo protein, sometimes called “bad” cholesterol can raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. However, not all cholesterol is bad. HDL, or high-density lipo protein, otherwise known as “good” cholesterol carries this fat back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. It is best to choose foods that are lower in unhealthy saturated fats, such as red meat, butter and cheese. You can replace these foods with those that have plenty of fiber, such as oatmeal and beans, and healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil and nuts.
If you have high cholesterol, you should talk with your healthcare provider about how you can lower it. Even a 10% reduction in your total cholesterol may lower your risk for heart disease significantly.
Being overweight is often one of the first symptoms of underlying heart disease. Obesity can also cause a domino effect of other risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30, you may be at risk. With a few changes in your diet and increased physical activity, you can work to protect your heart from serious health conditions.
If you have diabetes, stay in control. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can cause problems by rising to dangerous levels. Having too much sugar in the blood can damage the vessels that supply the blood to vital organs, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems and nerve problems. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes.
Inactivity has been found to be just as dangerous for your heart as smoking or having high blood pressure or high cholesterol. With that being said, get your doctor’s approval and get active! Exercising and weight loss can also contribute to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, reduction of blood pressure and reduction of a heart attack risk. Whether you get involved in sports, household work, gardening or work-related physical activity, you will find numerous benefits for your health.
By managing your weight and physical activity levels, you may avoid or delay the development of heart and blood vessel disease.
You can talk with your healthcare provider about periodic testing to assess whether you have developed any of these risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Ready to talk to a doctor about your heart health? Schedule an appointment with an Ochsner cardiologist.