Heart disease stands as the primary cause of death in the United States, impacting many adults. Individuals with prediabetes and diabetes face a higher risk of developing heart disease. Fortunately, adopting a healthy lifestyle can substantially prevent and manage heart disease. For those already dealing with heart disease, lifestyle adjustments can help slow its progression. One of the most prevalent warning signs of heart disease is chest discomfort, often described as pressure or fullness.
Understanding Heart Disease
Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, encompasses various diseases and conditions affecting both the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). Examples of heart disease include heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes. The American Heart Association has identified several risk factors for heart disease:
- Increasing age
- Gender (male)
- Heredity (including race)
- Physical inactivity
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Inadequate sleep
Additional factors linked to a higher risk of heart disease comprise stress, alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy diet. The more risk factors one has, the greater the risk of heart disease. A heart-healthy lifestyle serves as the most effective defense against this condition.
Understanding Blood Pressure
Blood pressure refers to the force exerted on the walls of blood vessels by the circulating blood. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers:
- Systolic (the upper number) signifies the pressure against the artery walls during a heartbeat or contraction.
- Diastolic (the lower number) signifies the pressure against the artery walls when the heart is at rest or during the relaxation phase.
Elevated blood pressure escalates the risk of heart disease and kidney problems. Often referred to as the ‘silent killer,’ high blood pressure typically presents no noticeable symptoms.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance produced by the liver. It can also be obtained from animal-based foods like meat, fish, poultry, egg yolks, and dairy products. Cholesterol in the blood comprises two main types:
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), often known as “good” cholesterol, aids in removing cholesterol from the body, preventing its accumulation in arteries.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, can lead to blockages and an increased risk of heart disease when levels are too high.
Regular cholesterol level checks by your healthcare provider help determine whether your levels fall within the target range.
Eight Simple Steps to Prevent or Manage Heart Disease
- Stay Active: Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity for at least 5 days a week. You can break this down into shorter sessions throughout the day, gradually increasing your activity time if you’re new to exercise.
- Control Cholesterol: Consume a diet rich in healthy foods low in trans fats, saturated fats, and high in fiber. Have your cholesterol levels checked annually by a healthcare professional.
- Adopt a Healthy Diet: Incorporate vegetables into your daily meals and opt for fruit as a dessert. Aim for two servings of fish (preferably oily fish like salmon) per week. Choose unrefined, fiber-rich whole grains, and limit sodium intake to less than 1500mg per day.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking significantly elevates the risk of heart disease.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Achieve and sustain a healthy body weight.
- Manage Blood Pressure: Collaborate with your healthcare provider to monitor and control your blood pressure.
- Manage Blood Sugar Levels: Work with your healthcare provider to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.