Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Approximately 600,000 people die of heart disease every year, with men making up more than half of these deaths. Coronary artery disease is by far the most common type of heart disease, resulting in 380,000 deaths every year. The loss of life is not the only cost. Heart disease costs nearly $109 billion dollars every year in lost wages and productivity.

And now the good news: for many people, heart disease is a preventable condition.

Too often people believe that because a family member has heart disease, they are doomed to the same fate. Not true. Although genetics do a play a role, there are many things that you can do to prevent heart disease.

Educate Yourself To Determine Risk

First, educate yourself. There are many different online calculators that can help you assess your understanding of the risk factors for heart disease. Using them can help you make positive changes to lower your risk. You should also talk to your doctor about any risk factors that concern you.

Eat Right

It’s no surprise: diets high in fat and processed foods increase your chances of heart disease exponentially. With so much conflicting information and so many choices, how do you find a diet that is right for you? There are some simple changes you can make that don’t require special food purchases or a culinary degree.

  • Control portion sizes. This helps control weight, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Eating small portions of nutrient-dense foods will help regulate appetite throughout the day. Follow specific portion size guidelines when filling your plate.
  • Eat more vegetables. You can always have unlimited quantities of vegetables. Fill your plate to overflowing with vegetables in rainbow colors. Lightly steamed or eaten raw, vegetables provide excellent nutrition and fiber and keep you fuller longer.
  • Limit processed foods or foods with refined grains. This means choosing whole grain foods instead of foods with white flour. It also means avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners.
  • Limit unhealthy fats. Choose olive oil or canola oil and use it sparingly in cooking. Trans fats can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase the build-up of plaque in the arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke. If a fat is solid at room temperature, avoid it or limit the use of it. For snacking, choose foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats instead, like nuts or seeds.
  • Choose low-fat protein. Chicken and fish are excellent choices for protein, as are beans and legumes. In general, red meat is not recommended for those at risk of heart disease, but there is some research that indicates that organically raised beef actually lowers cholesterol and is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lower sodium intake. People in the U.S. consume extraordinary amounts of sodium daily. This can lead to high blood pressure and stroke. The recommended daily allowance of sodium is 2,300 milligrams a day for healthy adults, which is about a teaspoon of salt. Many people get that amount in a can or 2 of soup. Choose to flavor your food with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  • Practice meal planning. If you plan a week’s worth of meals, you are less likely to give in to a fast food run when you don’t know what to eat. Weekly meal planning is more economical, too. Meals needn’t be extravagant, and you can use a simple online tool to help plan for cooking and shopping.
  • Give yourself a treat. It is okay to indulge in a treat every now and then. Some chips or a decadent chocolate treat are more delicious when they are rare. When you make changes to your diet, you might even find that you crave them less but appreciate them more!

Move Your Body

Did you know that just 10 minutes of exercise a day can lower your risk for heart disease?

A study of 464 women in Louisiana looked at changes in health after just 72 minutes of weekly exercise consisting of walking at a leisurely pace (2 to 3 miles per hour, about the rate you would walk in a mall). Researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge found that the women who exercised at this rate had significantly improved heart health and fitness, almost matching the women who exercised at twice the rate.

Don’t limit yourself to 10 minutes if you want to do more, but if you are going from no activity to an exercise plan, this is a good place to start. Work up to an hour a day of moderate exercise for optimal benefits, and vary your workouts (gym classes, hiking, bike rides, yoga, etc) to stay interested. It helps to enlist friends and family, too.

You can also jump start fitness with high-intensity interval training. The 7-Minute Workout is a great place to begin! Remember to talk with your doctor before diving in, especially if you have been sedentary for a long period of time.

What To Do In Case Of Heart Attack

All of the above suggestions are great ways to decrease your risk of heart disease, but it is important to know what to do if you or a loved one suffers a heart attack.

Quick response is essential. 1 of the most important skills to have is CPR. A study of citizens in Denmark showed a dramatic decrease in deaths from heart attack when the population was properly trained in CPR. This training started in elementary school and became part of the culture. In the U.S., 88% of heart attacks occur in the home, but many people are unable to offer immediate, life-saving medical help. Taking the time to learn CPR is time well-spent. Local classes can be found online.

Preventing heart disease starts with assessing your risk and educating yourself. What are your risk factors, and what changes do you need to make?

Image by le vent le cri via Flickr


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