Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in men and women in the United States. Heart disease can affect anyone, no matter your age, race or ethnicity. There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease. Some of these factors include high blood pressure, high LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese and smoking. You can make changes to improve your heart health.
There are many things a person can do to improve heart health and to decrease heart disease. Some of these include following a heart healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding excessive alcohol use and not smoking. Knowing your family health history and discussing blood pressure goals regularly with your doctor can help avoid risks for heart disease as well.
Heart Healthy Diet
Following a heart healthy diet can help decrease your risk for heart disease. Always follow the type of diet and calorie intake your doctor recommends. Heart healthy diets usually include fat-free or low fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. It is also recommended to eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as trout, tuna and salmon at least twice weekly. When following a heart healthy diet, it is recommended to avoid too much red meat, palm and coconut oils and sugary foods and drinks. You should also limit your sodium intake. For more information about heart healthy diets including recipes, please visit The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Healthy Eating page.
Exercising can help improve your heart health, and is one of the best ways to lower your cholesterol, too. The AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days weekly for a total of 150 hours per week. Aerobic exercise is an exercise that makes you use more oxygen than usual and it will stimulate your heart to beat faster. These exercises can include brisk walking, swimming, cycling or even dancing. Aim for and maintain a healthy weight, not only to help with decreasing your risk for heart disease, but to help with your overall health. Remember to speak with your doctor before starting any diet and/or exercise program. Your doctor can help determine if you may need a statin, a common class of cholesterol lowering medications.
Limit Alcohol Use
To help improve your heart health, it is recommended to limit your alcohol intake. Too much alcohol may lead to high blood pressure and put you at risk for other heart related diseases. An alcoholic drink is defined as one 12 ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. Recommendations for alcohol use include no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.
Quitting smoking today and avoiding second hand smoke is important to improve your heart health. Smoking can raise your heart disease risk considerably and smoking can lead to heart attacks as well as strokes. Smoking not only affects your heart, but it also affects other organs in your body including your lungs, bladder, digestive organs and even your bones. If a person who smokes already has existing heart disease, that person is at a much higher risk for heart related health problems. It is important to quit smoking and to stay quit! Staying quit will also help improve overall health. For more information about smoking cessation programs, visit smokefree.gov or you can call the National Quit Smoking Hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Speak to your doctor about smoking cessation programs and/or products, like nicotine patches, that can help you stop smoking.
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