By Robert Martin, MD, FACC, Cardiologist, Aspirus Heart & Vascular at Aspirus Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin Rapids
Special to the City Times
Think you’re not at risk for heart disease? Think again. There’s a reason heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
There are a number of people who don’t think they’re at risk for heart disease because they are not overweight or because they work out, but the truth is there are very few people who are not susceptible to at least one risk factor for heart disease. Some risk factors, like family history, are out of our control, but there are many things we can do to reduce our own risk for heart disease.
Common risk factors for heart disease include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Family history
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Unhealthy diet
According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented. There’s also a not-so-secret formula for preventing heart disease: Small changes, plus time equal a big difference!
Know Your Risk
The best place to start identifying if you are at risk for heart disease is to get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels checked.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure themselves generally do not have symptoms, and many people don’t even know that their cholesterol level or blood pressure is high. That’s why it’s important to schedule regular visits with your doctor and keep track of your numbers for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). Doing so can give you a glimpse of your health status and future risk for certain diseases and conditions, including heart disease.
Once you know your current heart health, you can start making changes that can lead to a healthier heart.
Making Positive Changes
Making even minor improvements in eating and exercise habits can help you reduce your heart disease risk. Start by changing what you can, and strive to make more changes over time. Creating new habits can sometimes take days or weeks, but by taking small steps, you can start finding a healthier way to live your life.
The importance of eating well and becoming or staying active cannot be overstated. Diet and exercise can also help with weight loss, which has positive impacts on your body while reducing your risk for many different health issues.
Kick Start Your Nutrition
Strive to eat a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar but rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This will help you manage your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. Other recommendations include:
- Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your meals. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower sodium.
- Eat less sodium. Common foods that can lead to sodium overload: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks.
Focus on Fitness
Regular physical activity is a must for having a healthy heart. Healthy adults should get 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week. They should also do strength training twice a week. If you can’t do it all at once try exercising in 10-minute chunks. Before starting any new exercise program remember to always check with your doctor. Consider these options for boosting your activity levels:
- Go for a brisk walk during your break or lunch hour.
- Park as far away as you can at the mall or grocery store.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Take up an active hobby, such as golf or gardening, or return to a sport you used to enjoy.
Develop Healthy Habits
- Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease.
- Don’t smoke – Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.
- Limit alcohol – Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure.
Need Help With Your Heart?
Heart disease is serious, but knowing how to prevent or manage heart disease can help save your life or the life of someone you love. It is never too late to get started on a new, heart-healthy game plan.