Ways to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Ways to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

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Heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the United States. There are many reasons for this. Unfortunately, many of these reasons have to do with unhealthy lifestyle choices. It’s important that we stay on top of our health to ensure we reduce our risk of heart disease. In this article, we will go over what heart disease is, what the symptoms are, ways you can avoid it, and foods you can eat to lower your risk. 

What is Heart Disease?

There is no real heart disease definition as heart disease is an umbrella term encompassing many different types of heart conditions. It is widely publicized that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. There are many different types of these diseases with the most common one being coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart (1). Sometimes, the symptoms of these diseases can be silent and not diagnosed until a person experiences a heart attack or stroke. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for when it comes to heart disease:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, and chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in your legs or arms
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back

It should be noted that cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For example, men are more likely to experience chest pain while women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort such as shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. If you are worried that you are experiencing symptoms of heart disease, you should consult with your doctor as quickly as possible. If you are experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack such as chest pain, feeling light-headed, shortness of breath, and pain in one or both shoulders, you should seek immediate medical assistance. 

What Causes Heart Disease?

There are many different causes of heart disease. Some of these causes are genetic and inherited. However, most of these causes are due to lifestyle choices and poor dietary choices. We will go over the foods to avoid and the foods to eat to reduce the risk of heart disease later in the article. In the meantime, let’s go over some of the other causes of heart disease:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress
  • Over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements, and herbal remedies
  • Valvular heart disease

In a healthy person with a normal, healthy heart, it's unlikely for a fatal arrhythmia to develop without some outside trigger, such as an electrical shock or the use of illegal drugs. That's primarily because a healthy person's heart is free from any abnormal conditions that cause an arrhythmia, such as an area of scarred tissue. However, in a heart that's diseased or deformed, the heart's electrical impulses may not properly start or travel through the heart, making arrhythmias more likely to develop.

Ways to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

As we mentioned earlier, many of the causes of heart disease are centered around lifestyle choices. Luckily for you, that means heart disease prevention could be as easy as making lifestyle changes. While this may seem easier said than done, even moderate changes will help you lower your risk. Here are some of the things you can do to reduce the risk of heart disease:

Quit Smoking

We know it can be one of the most difficult habits to quit but if you regularly smoke cigarettes it’s time to consider quitting. The potential health risks that come with smoking cigarettes extend well beyond developing cardiovascular disease. Think about it this way, it’s more difficult to recover from a heart attack or stroke than it is to live with chronic heart disease. 

Reduce Stress

Again, something that’s easier said than done. However, research points to stress and coronary heart disease risk having a direct relationship. Stress in a person’s life can affect the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Stress can also increase your risk in non-direct ways. For example, people under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would. 

Limit Alcohol

It’s important that you limit your alcohol consumption but that doesn’t mean that you need to give up on alcohol altogether. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy, stroke, cancer, and other diseases. It can contribute to high triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide, and accidents. However, researchers agree that there is a positive cardioprotective effect of moderate alcohol consumption. One drink a day or even two drinks a day for men can actually help keep the heart-healthy

Lower High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for stroke, which is a leading cause of disability in the United States. You can lower your blood pressure by lowering your salt intake and by taking the medications recommended by your doctor. An optimal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mmHg. 

Get Active

This may seem obvious but if you’re serious about lowering your risk of developing heart disease you need to be physically active. Studies have found that at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and keep your weight down. Even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, exercise provides numerous health benefits. 

Try to Maintain a Healthy Weight

There’s no reason to sugarcoat it, the more overweight you are the more prone you are to developing heart disease. By controlling your weight you can help prevent heart disease as well as many other medical ailments. The key is to stick to a diet and nutritional plan that will last. Ditch the fad diets and go with a sustainable, balanced, and healthy diet. 

Can You Reduce Risk of Heart Disease With Food?

Perhaps the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease is by maintaining a balanced and healthy diet. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you'll be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet. Here are some of the foods that should be in your heart-healthy diet:

  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Oatmeal 
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Avocados 
  • Lean ground meats
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Herbs and spices

Perhaps just as important as the foods you eat are the foods that you don’t eat. While this doesn’t mean you can never enjoy these foods, you should try to reduce your intake as much as possible. Instead of enjoying these foods every day or every other day, try to limit your intake to once a week or once per month. Here are some foods to avoid with heart disease (2):

  • Coconut
  • Fried or breaded vegetables
  • White bread
  • Muffins
  • Frozen waffles
  • Cornbread
  • White, refined flour
  • Butter
  • Gravy
  • Table salt

Again, we’re not saying you can never eat these foods again, but try to limit your intake. Just as important as the food you eat is your portion size. Large portion sizes can essentially take away all the benefits of eating healthy. 

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Resources:

  1. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  2. About Heart Disease