Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American adults. A recent report in the GallupHealthways State of American Well-Being series exposes the negative effects of heart disease including chronic disease, financial woes and productivity at work – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your genes may predispose you to heart disease, but your lifestyle choices play a bigger role.
Kick the bad habits
Consuming too much alcohol can increase your risks of high blood pressure and heart disease. Although some studies suggest that a glass or two of wine each day might improve heart health, consuming alcohol in excess can negatively affect your heart.
Smoking is another risk factor of heart disease. The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage blood vessels, causing them to clog and harden, making smokers more susceptible to heart attacks. Drop the booze and stomp out your cigarette addiction, and you’ll be on your way to reducing your risk of heart disease.
Ditch the meat
Your consumption of fat directly affects your heart. A diet that is high in bad fats can increase cholesterol and clog arteries, leading to heart disease. Red meat is a particularly big contributor to heart disease, because it’s high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Opt instead for plant-based proteins like beans, legumes and tofu.
Limit total fat
What you exclude is as important as what you eat. Try consuming less than 10 percent of your daily calories from fat and no more than 10 milligrams of cholesterol a day. To do this, eliminate high-fat foods like animal products and added oils, and get your healthy fats from foods like beans, grains, vegetables and small amounts of nuts and seeds.
What does a nut serving look like?
- Five almonds
- Nine pistachios
- 1.5 tsps. pumpkin seeds
- Six peanuts
Manage your stress
Stress isn’t always a bad thing – it can boost energy and increase alertness. However, when stress goes unmanaged, it can cause high cholesterol and high blood pressure, two risks of heart disease. People often cope with stress by smoking, drinking or overeating, which also lead to increased risk of heart disease.
Try managing your stress with breathing, stretching or meditation. For best results, try a technique for an hour each day. Don’t have that long? Practice managing your stress for even a few minutes. The consistency with which you practice is more important for reversing heart disease than the length of time you practice.
Exercise can improve your heart health and reduce your risk of obesity. Walking for 30 minutes a day or an hour three times a week will give you the physical aerobic activity your body needs. But don’t limit yourself to walking – biking and swimming are other great and fun ways to add movement to your day. If you choose an activity that you like, you won’t mind doing it.
It might not be safe for individuals with conditions like obesity and diabetes to jump into exercising for an hour or even 30 minutes at a time. Before starting an exercise regimen, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about safety and possible restrictions.