In addition to being a symbol of love and of the substance of a person, the heart is also a critical organ, so it is vital that we give it all of the love and attention it deserves. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, taking the lives of more than 647,000 Americans each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s almost one in every four deaths. With so many diagnosed with the disease, American Heart Month is the perfect time to keep your finger on the pulse regarding the basics of heart disease and steps you can take to prevent it.
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that the most common form of heart disease is coronary heart disease, caused by plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries that could potentially lead to a major coronary event like a heart attack, if not properly managed.
Who’s at risk
There are a number of factors that can put people at risk, as well as certain populations that are more apt to develop heart disease including:
- High LDL cholesterol
- Low LDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Post-menopausal women
- Men 45 years and older
Combine these factors with today’s stressful and sedentary lifestyles, and layer on a nutritionally-deficient diet, and it’s clear why the American population is falling victim to heart disease. If you do find yourself battling heart disease or caring for someone who is, incorporating good nutrition, physical activity, weight management, stress management and taking control of existing conditions (i.e. high blood pressure, etc.) into one’s routine along with following a doctor-prescribed treatment plan can help you protect your health and prevent a future heart attack. Let’s take a closer look at a few lifestyle habits that can help lead to a healthier heart.
Stay up-to-date on regular health screenings
A few key risk factors in the development of heart disease include pre-existing conditions that patients may be completely unaware of or mismanaging based on old tests and outdated data. Stay current with blood pressure, cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes screenings to ensure that you are addressing those conditions and can incorporate any associated treatment seamlessly into a heart-healthy routine.
Strive for a healthy weight range
According to the AHA, carrying extra weight (especially around the waist) can contribute to heart disease as it can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. No need to be intimidated by the thought of losing weight as even a loss of just three to five percent of your body weight can lower your risk.
Nosh on a nutrient-rich diet
When it comes to protecting your heart, a healthy diet is the first line of defense. To keep it as simple as possible, eat more vegetables and fruits, beans/legumes, lean meats and fish, low-fat and fat-free dairy, whole grains and healthy fats (i.e. olive oil). Foods that you should enjoy in limited quantities include salt, sugar, processed carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fat and alcohol.
The chemicals found in tobacco can wreak havoc on your heart. The American College of Cardiology says that cigarette smoke tightens the arteries forcing the heart to work harder to supply oxygen to the body’s tissues. This leads to an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
Keep it moving
Physical activity is important when it comes to combatting heart disease. Exercise can help strengthen your heart muscle, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If an intense workout isn’t your speed, you can start slowly with a brisk walk and build up over time. 
Oftentimes, stress in our lives can trigger us to fall back on unhealthy habits as a form of relief. Behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and over-eating do less to help us manage stress and more to help us avoid it. All of the lifestyle habits outlined above are a great barometer to start your stress management journey.
Caring for the heart, the physical and spiritual center of the body, will not only help to decrease the mortality rate of Americans falling to heart disease, but will also play a major role in the betterment of those saved lives. If you are currently living with heart disease or caring for someone who is, it’s not too late to get on the right track.
A healthy heart begins with a healthy (and informed) mind. Familiarizing yourself with general information about heart disease, its risk factors and preventative measures is an integral first step. A high heart-health IQ can only help. Couple that with a healthy lifestyle and a doctor-prescribed treatment plan and you’ll be on the road to better heart health… in a heartbeat.