Here are some steps you can take now to reduce your risk of getting heart disease:
- DON'T SMOKE--tobacco can be quite injurious to your heart and lungs. Period.
- GET YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE CHECKED AND KEEP IT UNDER CONTROL--the optimum recommended blood pressure is under 115mm Hg / 75mm Hg (or 115/75). Hypertension occurs when blood pressure exceeds 140/90 and dramatically increases the risk of strokes. To control from getting hypertension, exercise, lose weight, limit your sugar and salt intake (i.e., <2300mg of sodium or about one teaspoon of salt), and eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some lowfat dairy products. Try the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Diet.
- GET YOUR CHOLESTEROL LEVELS CHECKED AND KEEP THEM UNDER CONTROL--the optimum recommended cholesterol levels are the following: LDL<130 mg/dl; HDL>45 mg/dl; TC<200 mg/dl; TG<200mg/dl; and TC:HDL<3.5. An elevated LDL level (i.e., >150 mg/dl) increases the risk of heart disease. A healthy diet (i.e., less saturated fat, more unsaturated fats, no trans fats, etc.), regular exercise, and losing bodyweight will help get your cholesterol levels into the healthy range. Statins should be a last resort.
- GET YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL CHECKED AND KEEP IT UNDER CONTROL--an elevated blood sugar level increases the risk of getting diabetes which in turn increases your risk of getting heart disease. Again, a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and weight loss will help.
- EAT A HEALTHY DIET--you should eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and some fish. Avoid processed foods which contain partially hydrogenated oils and limit your fast food as well as fried food intake as much as possible. You should also reduce your sugar and salt intake. Eat less refined products (e.g., white bread, regular pasta). The Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet are considered the most healthiest diets today.
- EXERCISE REGULARLY--any physical activity is better than none! Try daily walking trips or go out for a bike ride. Strive to be active at least 30 minutes daily three times per week.
- CONTROL YOUR WEIGHT--increasing bodyweight increases your risk of getting heart disease. Being obese (i.e., BMI>30) is certainly a risk factor but just being overweight (i.e., BMI>25) is of increased risk for heart disease. Losing weight will lessen your risk of hypertension, getting diabetes as well as heart disease. Having excessive abdominal fat and a waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men dramatically increases heart disease risk. A healthy diet and regular exercise is recommended.
- DRINK ALCOHOL IN MODERATION IF AT ALL--moderate alcohol intake (i.e., one drink for women and 2 drinks for men) actually reduces heart attack risk because it lessens blood clotting and raises HDL (the good cholesterol).
BOTTOM LINE: Lessen your risk of getting heart disease by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking.
Brian Danley, CFT
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."