Beating 80 times per minute and pumping upwards of 1,500 gallons of blood per day, the heart is the hardest working organ in your body. It’s no wonder that when we engage in bad habits—like smoking, eating junk food, and avoiding exercise—our hearts bear the brunt of that neglect.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four Americans will die from cardiovascular disease. This term refers to all conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system, such as stroke, heart attack, and aortic disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and while these conditions are largely preventable, the main causes—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and obesity—continue to rise.
How can we protect ourselves from heart disease?
“One of the easiest and most important changes a person can make is dietary modification,” says Samuel Suede, MD, chief of cardiology of Englewood Health.
According to Dr. Suede, founding partner of Cardiovascular Associates of New Jersey, advises his patients looking to avoid cardiovascular diseases with the following tips.
“First, eat the rainbow—include a wider variety of color in your diet. Consume unprocessed, healthy foods rich in nutrients and vitamins, such as green leafy vegetables, fresh berries, fruits, fish, lean meats, and whole grains.
“Second, cut the salt. You don’t have to eliminate it out all at once, but reduce the amount you use with each meal, work toward preparing foods with little or no salt, and never use a salt shaker.
“Third, don’t regularly indulge in sweets. Read labels and minimize the amount of sugar you consume in beverages and prepared foods,” says Dr. Suede.
Are you picking the right foods?
You’ll notice various brands claiming to be “heart healthy” as you walk through the grocery store, but how many of those labels can you trust?
Yes, some food and drink labels are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but many are not. Telling the difference can be very confusing. The only label that has been vetted for truthfulness by the FDA is the Nutrition Facts Label, found on the food and drink packages.
An important part of protecting your health, specifically your heart health, is to be an informed consumer. Learn to understand the Nutrition Label Facts. Look for low levels of added sugar, sodium, and trans fats, as well as higher levels of calcium, dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
How much exercise is enough?
Diet alone is not enough to boost long-term health, exercising is the other part. You do not have to work out like an Olympian, but you do need to get your heart rate up a several times per week.
“Make sure you’re not sitting all day—move more! Build exercise into your schedule, so it becomes a habit. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week. If you have a job that keeps you deskbound, take breaks to stretch and go for a walk,” Dr. Suede says.
What else can be done?
Dr. Suede explains that it’s very important to make every effort to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake to one glass or less per day.
“If you do overindulge, don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t give up. Each new day counts when it comes to heart health,” Dr. Suede says.
One of the most important pieces of advice Dr. Suede gives his patients is to relax.
“Stress itself can cause and aggravate hypertension,” he says. “It can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, and physical inactivity, causing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”
Adopting healthy methods to handle stress is a lifestyle change for the majority of Americans. A good place to begin is by developing a new hobby or exercise routine. Spend time with people who calm you, whether family, friends, coworkers or a significant other, is an excellent way to wind down.
“Yoga, guided meditation, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, Reiki, smoking cessation courses, nutritional counselling” are various services to help relax the mind and body, Dr. Suede says.
A new year is a great time to take stock of your health and begin to make improvements by setting health goals. The decisions you make about your heart health today will greatly affect the outcome down the road.
“This year, focus on you,” says Dr. Suede. “Manage and prevent your risk factors, take steps to reduce your stress levels, exercise regularly, take heed of any warning signs, and have an in-depth conversation with your physician about your numbers and heart health.”
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