Simple daily hacks to keep your heart healthy
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the world. Cancer and stroke round out the top three. Heart disease includes conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart diseases. The most common cause of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which is a blocked or narrowed coronary artery that supplies the heart with blood. Heart disease accounts for 40% of all U.S. deaths, more than all forms of cancer combined. Hence it becomes our utmost priority to look after our heart health. We can control our heart health easily by following some simple health rules daily. What we eat also helps us in maintaining a healthy heart.
Here are some life hacks that we can incorporate in our daily lives to have a healthy heart.
Follow a heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet is low in total fat, saturated fats and trans fats that raise blood cholesterol levels. To cut saturated fat, choose lean cuts of meat and remove skin from poultry before eating. Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products. To avoid trans fats, check the ingredient list on all commercially processed food products, especially baked goods and crackers, and avoid any that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Eat foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Just about everyone should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and other plant-based foods. The fiber is good for your cholesterol, and you’ll get vitamins the natural way, from foods. You can still eat fish (especially salmon or tuna, which are high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and meat, but make it lean and keep the portions modest. Also limit salt and sugar. Most people get too much of both.
Some of the key points of a heart healthy diet are:
Eat more fiber
Fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels and helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat. A high-fiber diet contains nutrient-packed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads and legumes, such as black beans, lima beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Cut the Salt
Cook without salt, limit processed foods, and go easy on the salt shaker. Aim to bring down the sodium you eat to 1,500 milligrams, the American Heart Association’s daily limit. Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
Eat more vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods.
Add more whole grains to your diet
Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as whole-grain farro, quinoa or barley.
Cut down unhealthy fats
Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. Healthy fats include:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Vegetable and nut oils
- Margarine, trans fat free
- Cholesterol-lowering margarine, such as Benecol, Promise Activ or Smart Balance
- Nuts, seeds
Don’t be an active or passive smoker
If you smoke, you are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as nonsmokers, and you’re much more likely to die if you do have a heart attack.
Also studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25 to 30 percent higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. And nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart disease when they’re exposed to secondhand smoke. This is because the chemicals emitted from cigarette smoke promote the development of plaque buildup in the arteries.
Look after your cholesterol levels
The risk of heart disease increases if a person has:
- Total cholesterol level over 200
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol level under 40
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level over 160
- Triglycerides over 150
Bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) can clog your arteries, cause plaque build-up, increase blood pressure, and generally ruin the health of your heart. By elimination “bad” cholesterol from your diet, and replacing it with beneficial cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), you can re-balance the fatty acids in your body to prevent cardiovascular diseases. To help lower cholesterol levels, eat a diet low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and refined sugars.
Control high blood pressure
More than 50 million people in the U.S. have hypertension, or high blood pressure, making it the most common heart disease risk factor. Exercise and healthy eating help. Some people may need medicine to control their blood pressure, too.
Move Around and be active
People who don’t exercise are more likely to get heart disease, and die from it, than people who are active. In recent years, research has suggested that staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health no matter how much exercise you do. This is bad news for the many people who sit at sedentary jobs all day. When looking at the combined results of several observational studies that included nearly 800,000 people, researchers found that in those who sat the most, there was an associated 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events and a 90 percent increase in death caused by these events. In addition, sitting for long periods of time (especially when traveling) increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot).
Look after your weight
Losing extra weight is good for your heart. It can also help you lower high blood pressure and manage diabetes. Obesity is a major contributing factor to heart disease, as it increases your bad cholesterol, increases your blood pressure, elevates your chances of developing atherosclerosis, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Losing weight can eliminate these risk factors that can damage your heart.
Diabetes makes heart disease more likely. Many people who have diabetes don’t know it.
Manage stress and anger
Everyone has stress, and it’s normal to get angry now and then. When stress and anger flare up, especially if it happens a lot, that’s a problem. Managing your stress and handling your anger in healthy ways puts you back in charge.
Maintain good dental hygiene
Dental health is a good indication of overall health, including your heart, because those who have periodontal (gum) disease often have the same risk factors for heart disease. Studies continue on this issue, but many have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. These changes may in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter your age or other health habits. One study looking at 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours per night. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation.
Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, or at least on most days. Regular aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, bike riding, stair climbing, swimming, jumping rope, circuit training and dancing keeps your heart fit, raises your levels of protective HDL cholesterol and can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Being active at home and at work rather than just sitting for most of the day also contributes to heart fitness.
- Adults need at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days a week for heart health. Make exercise playtime and you’re more likely to get it done. Play kickball with your kids, walk the dog, or shoot hoops, or go “mall-walking” with co-workers on your lunch break.
- Go for a total of at least 30 minutes of exercise daily — and break it up, if you like. Aim for a 10-minute morning walk, workout with hand weights at lunch, and some digging in the garden before dinner, and you’ve met your goals.
Drinking moderately can be good for heart health. Although a glass of red wine contains antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and alcohol can cause a slight raise in HDL cholesterol levels, drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure, your triglycerides and your calorie count. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one average-sized drink daily for women and two for men.
Increase Antioxidant Intake
Antioxidants are some of the most important elements of human health, as they protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, which can cause chronic diseases, as well as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown as much as a 20% reduction in heart disease when antioxidants are a major part of a person’s diet. Increase your intake of berries, nuts, beans, artichokes, cocoa, citrus fruits, and green leafy vegetables, all of which are high in antioxidants. Also intake of lean beef may also help in lowering blood pressure and reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Take some sunshine
Getting some rays is not only relaxing, it also gives your body a much-needed dose of vitamin D, which is not only good for your bone strength, but has also been shown as a serious preventative vitamin for heart-related diseases, according to recent studies.
Regular blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol checks, as well as physical exams, are important to keep your heart healthy. Two conditions that can hurt your heart — high blood pressure and high cholesterol — are “silent.” That means you typically won’t know you have them unless you get tested. Ask your doctor how often you need a heart checkup and put the next one on your calendar now.
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