Dr. Alison Bailey Cardiologist, Erlanger Heart and lung Institute
The American Heart Association stresses the importance of these statistics in the organization’s 2020 Impact Goal: to strengthen the cardiovascular health of Americans by 20% and reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020. To reach this goal, the organization has shared what it deems “Life’s Simple 7”:
#1 Quit smoking
Not only does smoking harm nearly every organ in the body (including the heart!), but it also increases your risk of atherosclerosis. Quitting smoking is one of the easiest preventative measures you can take regarding cardiovascular disease. Within one year of quitting, your risk of heart disease becomes half that of a smoker’s, and 15 years after quitting, your risk will drop to the same as a nonsmoker’s. If you’re having trouble putting down the cigarettes, seek a support group or cessation program that best fits your needs.
#2 Increase your physical activity
You’ve heard it said again and again, but exercise is essential to strengthening your cardiovascular health. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity a day at least five days a week. As a result, your heart will see increased efficiency as it pumps blood through your circulatory system. Also be mindful of the time you spend sitting down. Whether at your desk job or in front of the TV, studies show that prolonged sedentary time may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
#3 Eat better
Eating a balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, and fruits will work wonders toward your heart health. Oatmeal, nuts, berries, salmon, and legumes are all touted as heart healthy choices, so try to incorporate at least one or two of these foods daily. As much as possible, avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and processed foods high in trans fat and sodium.
#4 Maintain a healthy weight
In addition to raising blood pressure and cholesterol levels, excess body fat puts unnecessary strain on the heart. You can determine your ideal weight by calculating your BMI. Losing extra pounds can be accomplished through a combination of exercise and healthy eating; reach for high-fiber foods to help you feel full!
#5 Control cholesterol
Your body needs cholesterol to build cells, but too much “bad” cholesterol (LDL) can be harmful – contributing to blockage in the arteries. By controlling your cholesterol levels now, you can prevent future chest pain, heart attacks, and strokes. Boost your “good” cholesterol (HDL) by snacking on almonds, going for a run, and avoiding tobacco products.
#6 Reduce your blood pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, causes damage to your heart and blood vessels over time and can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Dubbed the “silent killer,” high blood pressure is difficult to diagnose until serious problems arise, so it’s crucial to have your blood pressure checked regularly. “Around 34% of American adults have high blood pressure, and nearly half of those people don’t have it under control,” says Dr. Lisy. “Based on the most recently published guidelines, blood pressure is elevated if it is more than 130/80 mmHg.”
If you find yourself with worrisome numbers, take a deep breath. Managing stress is one step toward lowering blood pressure. You’ll also benefit from limited alcohol consumption and routine physical activity, including walking, cycling, and swimming. If these measures do not help, seek medical advice soon!
#7 Improve your blood sugar levels
High blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes, and researchers believe that diabetes and cardiovascular disease go hand in hand. Fortunately, improving blood sugar levels can be as simple as avoiding sugary foods, such as juice and candy, and getting plenty of physical activity. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, always take medication as directed by your doctor, in addition to eating well and exercising often.
Now is as good a time as any to make the pledge to concentrate on your health. Changing unhealthy habits can take time, but focus on making small improvements as you work toward your heart-healthy goals.