About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year but that doesn’t have to be your fate. Some risk factors like your family history, sex or age you can’t control but there are some lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk.
1. Start moving!
Just getting 30 minutes of exercise each day can reduce your risk of heart disease. Physical activity can help strengthen your heart, which is helpful in preventing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Don’t let the idea of exercising scare you. It can really be as easy as walking. Try taking a 30-minute brisk walk most days of the week. Consider getting a
pedometer and make a goal of 10,000 steps per day.
If these goals are tough for you, don’t give up. Even breaking the workout into smaller chunks can offer heart benefits. Take 10-minute walks during your lunch break or do jumping jacks during commercial breaks while you’re watching television.
2. Cut out smoking
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death. Heart disease is no exception. Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease.
Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material (atheroma), which narrows the artery. This can cause a heart attack or a stroke.
Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This forces your heart to work even harder to supply enough oxygen.
No amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. So decreasing the amount that you smoke can help improve your heart health. Remember, even smokeless tobacco, low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke can be risky. Eliminating smoking and tobacco products from your life is your safest bet.
Your risk of heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. Your risk of coronary heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years.
3. Eat for your heart
Paying attention to what you put in your body plays a large role in preventing heart disease. Eating heart-healthy foods don’t have to be too restrictive, small choices can amount to a healthier lifestyle.
Use smaller plates when preparing your meals. This is a small tip that will prevent you from overloading your plate and filling up on unhealthy items. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich food like vegetables.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. These foods are usually low in calories and rich in nutrients. This all works to give you better cardiovascular health overall.
4. Know your Numbers
When it comes to your cardiovascular health, there are a few important numbers that you should know. Those numbers are your blood pressure, cholesterol and A1C (diabetes) levels.
Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are. This will help you know when you need to take action to decrease your risk. Here’s why those numbers are important.
Blood pressure. Aim to have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
If you’re age 40 or older, or have a high risk of high blood pressure, get your blood pressure reading every year. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Cholesterol levels. Your body naturally builds up from your liver. But when there is too much cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a form of heart disease. You should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 18.
Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Visit your doctor to have a fasting blood sugar test or hemoglobin A1C test to check for diabetes. If you don’t have any specific risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.
This article originally appeared in the Dallas Post Tribune.