Heart attacks are one of the most common disease killers around the world. The risk factors for heart disease can be controlled but some cannot. The leading risk factors include lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise. By applying proactive healthcare choices you can significantly cut your risk of developing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Let’s take a look at the risk factors that you can and cannot control. The key to preventing heart attacks is being proactive and not waiting until it is too late.
Age & Gender
Your risk of developing a heart attack goes up significantly with age. Over 80 percent of people who die of heart disease are 60 years of age or older. Men have a greater risk of developing a heart attack earlier in life. Women commonly experience a heart attack after menopause.
Lifestyle habits still play a significant role regardless of your age or gender.
You may be at risk if you have a family member or parent that has developed heart disease at an early age. Genetics is no longer the primary determinant in the development of heart disease. Learned lifestyle habits such as exercise, nutritional choices and ways to manage stress has been found to play a significant role.
The good news – if your mother or father have heart disease, you can still make lifestyle changes and reduce your risk significantly. Your choices are not genetic.
Your chance of developing heart disease is two to four times greater if you smoke cigarettes. Smoking damages the arteries, contributes to cholesterol problems, raises blood pressure and increases the risk of developing blood clots. Quitting smoking is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack.
High Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
One’s cholesterol and blood pressure measurements are commonly unknown until a problem arises. These two conditions are known to be “silent killers”. About one in three adults have high blood pressure, which makes the heart work harder to pump blood. Hypertension increases your risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.
Losing weight, becoming more physically active, eating less salt and drinking less alcohol can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol naturally.
Your risk of heart disease goes up significantly if you have type 2 diabetes. Diabetes contributes to narrowing of the arteries, increased cholesterol and risk of arterial plaquing. Women are at greatest risk as they have smaller arteries based on body size.
Luckily the same steps that help reduce heart disease also help to reduce diabetes. Exercise and healthy eating not only prevents these conditions but it has also been found to reverse them.
People who have excess body fat—especially around the midsection—are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes. Weight progressively accumulates over time if lifestyle factors are not proactively managed. Women over the age of 60 are at the highest risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Eat plenty of fish, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil to lose weight and reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
It is very common for people to become less active as they get older which increases their risk of developing heart disease. Simply by going for a walk will reduce your risk significantly. It is recommended to have 30 minutes of moderate-level exercise on most days of the week.
The intensity of the exercise matters more than the type of exercise. It is important to get your heart rate up. A fast-paced walk will do more for your heart than a stroll.
Read Food Labels
Always check the food label before purchasing or consuming any product. The items to look out for are the amount of sugar, sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. The best recommendation is to limit the amount of foods that actually have a food label.
Fruits, vegetables, fish and meats do not have a food label. Boxed and canned goods have a food label because they are highly processed. Food processing reduces the nutritional value and will put you at greater risk of developing heart disease.
One of the best nutritional interventions to lose weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol is to eat fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have also been shown to slow down the buildup of plaque and blood clots, which can clog the arteries.
Eat Fruits & Veggies
One of the best ways to stay heart healthy is to simply eat more of the foods you’ve always known are good for you. Eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. It is common for people to eat more vegetables than fruit because of their sweetness. The sweetness of fruit comes from sugar. Try to consume more vegetables for this reason alone. However, both fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Avoid Added Sugar
Sugar is one of the most important products to avoid. Sugar is a lot more than the white crystals that you put in your coffee or tea. Sugar is hidden in every processed food item in a box or a can. It is commonly used as an agent to create a dependence on the product as well.
Sodas, breads, cereals, boxed goods and even canned vegetables have added sugar. Sugar is a major contributor to weight gain, diabetes and eventually heart disease. It produces inflammation in the body which also contributes to conditions such as arthritis, hormonal imbalances and even cancer.
The human body doesn’t need sugar to function properly, and the extra calories could go straight to your waistline. Products such as Xylitol or the herb stevia are a healthy, sweet alternative that does not have the same negative effects.
Cut the Salt
To help keep your blood pressure under control, and therefore lower your risk of heart disease, limit the amount of salt you consume. Up to 75% of the salt in the diet comes from processed foods—everything from soups to salad dressings.
It is recommended to choose foods without added salt, and preparing home-cooked meals with little or no salt. All-natural food items such as fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats have very little salt.
The choices that we make today impact our health tomorrow. Improve your daily choices and apply the proactive health tips to reduce your risk of developing the devastating effects of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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