Whilst cancer has overtaken heart disease as the greatest cause of death in the UK, heart disease is still a major cause – particularly in women . Though women suffer fewer heart attacks than men, they are less likely to survive when they do have a heart attack.
Both men and women should take steps to lower the risk of heart disease. These seven tips for lowering the risk of heart disease should help…
1. Stop smoking. Smoking or using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease.
Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe.
Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke. If you are having trouble, try using a nicotine patch or gum.
The good news is that you will be lowering the risk of heart disease dramatically within just 12 months of you stopping smoking. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you stop.
2. Find out your blood pressure. When the arteries of the body and the heart are narrowed due to plaque build-up on the vessel walls, blood pressure will increase. When blood is under such pressure, it can dislodge pieces of arterial plaque into the bloodstream. This could lead to a heart attack if the plaque lodges in a coronary artery or a stroke if the plaque lodges in the brain.
Monitor your blood pressure regularly and, if you have any concerns at all, visit your GP as soon as possible. (Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.)
3. Have your cholesterol checked. High blood cholesterol leads to plaque deposits on the walls of arteries. As more plaque builds up, the vessels will narrow.
There are three main components of cholesterol:
- HDL lowers total blood cholesterol by removing plaques that have been deposited on the walls of arteries.
- LDL causes the plaques to stick to the arteries in the first place.
- Triglycerides are a fatty substance in the blood. High triglyceride levels have been linked to heart disease.
Your doctor may prescribe medication or suggest changes to your diet to lower your blood cholesterol. Taking phytosterols or lecithin supplements may also help to reduce your cholesterol levels and so help with lowering the risk of heart disease.
4. Lose weight if necessary. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to lowering your risk of heart disease. Carrying too much weight, especially around the midsection, increases the strain on your heart – not to mention your back and your legs.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which determines if you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat my comparing your weight and height in a specific formula.
Because the BMI index can sometimes give a false indication – particularly if you are muscular and physically fit (muscle weighs more than fat) – your waist measurement can be taken into consideration as this shows your level of abdominal fat. (Men with 40” plus waists and women with 35” plus waists are considered to be overweight and at risk.)
5. Start an exercise program. Performing an exercise for at least thirty minutes most days of the week will increase your cardiovascular health and your oxygen output.
Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress which is also considered to be a factor in heart disease.
Be aware that this doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. Doing the housework, gardening and walking the dog all count as exercise – providing you pick up the speed a bit. However, the higher the intensity and frequency of the exercise the greater the benefit.
6. Find out if you have diabetes. Developing diabetes automatically puts you at risk of developing heart disease. If you are diabetic, make sure your blood sugar levels are under control with insulin or a change in diet.
If you are overweight or have a family history of diabetes, your doctor will determine whether to arrange for a fasting blood sugar test and recommend what action to take once the results are back.
7. Change the way you eat. A healthy diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruits, and low-fat dairy products. Lean beef, chicken, and pork will provide daily protein along with fish and seafood. Invest in a good multivitamin to provide the nutrients that you may miss from day to day.
Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels, so should be avoided or, at least, reduced, in your diet.
Major sources of saturated fat include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Coconut and palm oils
Sources of trans fat include:
- Deep-fried fast foods
- Bakery products
- Packaged snack foods
On the other hand, Omega-3 fatty acids, may help with lowering the risk of heart disease by protect against irregular heartbeats and helping to lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of omega-3 and can also be found in flaxseed, walnuts, and hemp seed. They can also be purchased as a supplement.
Heart disease doesn’t have to affect you. Know the warning signs and risks, and work with your doctor to start a program of lowering the risk of heart disease. And one last thing, relax! Stress increases your blood pressure and heart rate and so increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.