The foundation of a healthy life is a strong and healthy heart. Making improvements toward a healthy lifestyle increases your chances of keeping a healthier heart. There are over 17,000,000 deaths worldwide as a result of heart disease, but as many as 80% of those untimely deaths could have been prevented. Sadly, symptoms of heart disease can sometimes sneak up and it’s not noticed until the damage has already been realized.

A heart attack and the symptoms of heart disease can quickly change the best-laid plans for your future. Rather than fretting about the likelihood of your unhealthy heart, take the time to learn about the causes of heart disease, how you can work to prevent it and therefore, decrease your risk, and improve your overall health.

Causes of Heart Disease

Through years of research, there haven’t been any newly found surprises on causes of heart disease. The biggest culprit is still atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque in the lining of arteries. Over time, it can harden and narrow your arteries, decreasing blood flow to vital organs and tissues. In time, this creates damage to the heart and blood vessels.

There are three lifestyle habits that are to blame for atherosclerosis:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking

Those bad lifestyle habits mixed with a big dose of stress add up to heart disease! Compared to other risk factors, like age or genetics, the good news is these habits are all within your control. You do have the power to change.

Takeaway tip: Learn about the causes of heart disease so you can find what behaviors may be increasing your risk. Then, create a plan to change that poor habit.

Prevent Heart Disease

Diet. Food fuels the human body and fresh, healthy, nutritious food primes your body for good health. On the opposite side, eating poorly may slow you down, clog the arteries with plaque, create high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Diets packed with unhealthy fats, salt and sugar are known to create or increase heart disease.

The best diets for heart health encourage eating plenty of:

  • Vegetables, with a special focus on greens, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots
  • Fruits like apples, berries, melons, and oranges or other citrus fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Foods with quality protein
  • Coldwater Fish
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and avocado

Eating whole foods that are nutrient dense can help you feel filled and satisfied, but when you do still have cravings, don’t give in to foods or drinks heavy in salt, sugar, and alcohol.

Takeaway Tip: Perhaps you can select a nutrient-dense whole food to add into your meal plans for this next week. Decide on one processed food to cut back on or eliminate. Making both changes at one time is feasible. You can do it. As an example, select a bowl of fresh fruit for breakfast instead of the blueberry Danish filled with sugar you were considering.

 Get More Exercise. Of course, everyone knows that physical activity helps to keep us healthy. Getting up and moving around often during the day is good for us as it lessens four of the risk factors for heart disease.

Regular exercise:

  • may decrease cholesterol levels
  • can lower your blood pressure
  • helps with weight loss
  • lowers the likelihood of type 2 diabetes

Knowing this, you may be incentivized to get some exercise. Just 2-1/2 hours each week or 20 minutes daily is typically recommended, with an elevated heartbeat for at least 10 minutes at a time. One of the easiest exercises to do is walking, but swimming, dancing, bicycling and weight lifting are good choices, too.

Takeaway Tip: Initially, add 5 minutes of increased activity to your day. Turn on the music and dance around in your living room! If you’re going out to get the mail, walk a little faster!

Smoking. Just quit! Do you need one more reason to quit? Do it for your heart. Nicotine can reduce the size of blood vessels, allowing carbon monoxide to destroy the insides of the heart vessels. Smoking creates a steeper risk of heart disease. Yes, it can be a challenging habit to break, but remember that it’s a habit and that means it is a lifestyle choice, within your control. It may be hard to quit… but still possible to do. Keep in mind that there are programs or products that can help with cessation. Ask your doctor about what might be best for you.

Takeaway Tip: Know yourself. What are your reasons to quit smoking? Do you want to do it for you, so you can feel better, and so you will be able to play with your grandkids? Decide what motivates you best, then post a reminder in a place you’ll see it often.

Stress. High levels of inflammation can be created in the body as a direct result of stress. Reduce and manage the stress in your life before your arteries become damaged. Research shows a correlation of highly charged emotional situations prior to heart attacks! If your version of coping with stress includes drinking alcohol, smoking, suppressing feelings and overeating, you’ll appreciate some better strategies for relieving emotional pressure.

Try this:

  • Talk to a mental health provider for new coping strategies
  • Practice meditation
  • Increase daily physical activity
  • Release hurts and frustrations
  • Enjoy your relationships with intention

Often, life challenges aren’t within our power to control. Remember that our response is within our control.

Takeaway Tip: How do you presently deal with life stressors? Are you ready to make changes in at least one area? Make one sweet and simple new habit. Try writing down five things you are thankful for each morning or practice 30 seconds of deep breathing when anxious feelings arise.

The secret to decreasing heart disease is to learn all that you can about prevention. Know your risk factors and what you are up against if you don’t make changes. Focus on what you are willing to change. Take a few minutes to think about the heart disease risk factors likely to affect you. Take one step at a time. Even one new habit can make a difference!

Home Care Assistance of Greater Burlington can help seniors with many of these objectives by helping them maintain balanced schedules that consist of healthy diet and exercise. Learn more today when you call to schedule a free consultation with our one of our Care Managers. Our care team is headed by Stacy Lee, former RN and current Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach.