February is American Heart Month, which makes it the perfect time to talk about the alarming growth of heart disease in the US. Heart disease contributes to 1 in 4 deaths each year- and is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Many of the major risk factors that contribute to heart disease and mortality are modifiable with behavior change. However, some risk factors like age, gender, and family history are not modifiable and can be significant contributors to heart disease. Modifiable risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity and overweight
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Poor diet
While heart disease cannot be cured, it can be managed with lifestyle changes. Knowing the healthy ranges for the most common risk factors (i.e. blood pressure, body mass index) is a good place to start. Behavioral changes can also decrease the risk of developing heart disease.
Below are four proven ways to keep a healthy heart.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week, yet roughly 1 in 3 US adults participate in no physical activity. Moderate to intense exercise can include anything from walking and swimming to household chores and gardening.
2. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a nutritious diet not only makes you feel better, it also helps keep blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. Fruits, veggies, lean meats, and fish offer a rich, healthy diet. Diets with too many trans fat, salts or sugars should be avoided. Aim to consume five to 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day. This guide from the American Heart Association outlines how much constitutes a serving.
3. Avoid smoking and tobacco products
Smoking is a major cause of heart disease. It lowers good cholesterol, raises fat in blood (triglycerides), and narrows blood vessels, among other things. Secondhand smoke can contribute to heart disease as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, breathing secondhand smoke can increase the risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent.
4. Manage stress
Chronic stress exposes our body to stress hormones that are harmful to our health. Stress also can contribute to high blood pressure, overeating, and physical inactivity factors that can lead to heart disease. When you’re under stress, it’s important to not engage in behaviors that add fuel to heart disease like smoking and/or eating poorly. Of course it helps to keep a positive attitude, but exercise, meditation, and “unplugging” from the news, social media, and other stressors can help lift your mood.
Lifestyle changes are key to preventing and managing heart disease. And while heart disease may not bean issue for you, be sure to engage those close to you about the risk of heart disease and encourage healthy habits. Million Hearts has great resources for understanding heart disease and how to talk about it with your loved ones at risk.