Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. Every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and one person every minute dies from one. The chance of developing coronary heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to prevent and control risk factors. With 2012 newly upon us, February is a perfect time to focus on reducing our risk of developing heart disease. Here are some practices to keep your heart healthy and strong:
1. Focus on fitness: Regular physical activity helps control your weight and reduce your risk of developing conditions that strain your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. For optimal results, thirty to sixty minutes of moderate physical activity is recommended most days of the week. Set goals such as parking further away from your destination, or walking the dog an extra ten minutes to increase your level of activity.
2. Eat a heart healthy diet: Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and lean protein sources such as fish greatly reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Limiting fat, and especially saturated and trans fats helps keep your heart plaque free. Avoiding fried foods, processed and packaged foods and red meat reduces your consumption of unhealthy fats.
3. De-stress: Stress has been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease. Learning mechanisms of coping with high levels of stress and anxiety may decrease your risk. Taking a yoga class, visiting an acupuncturist, going for a jog, or simply having a cup of tea with a friend can all help to decrease our stress levels.
4. Ditch the tobacco products:
Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco damage the heart and blood vessels while the nicotine in cigarette smoke narrows blood vessels, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, increasing blood pressure. The good news is that within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease decreases significantly.
5. Get regular health screenings:
One of the reasons that heart disease is responsible for so many deaths in this country is that many people experience no symptoms related to the condition. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters. Beginning at the age of 20, adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years. Adults should talk with their doctor about setting up a fasting blood sugar test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years.
6. Laugh a lot!
Laughter strengthens the immune system, dissolves negative emotions, and releases endorphins. Laughing goes a long way toward reducing our stress levels and and keeping us healthy. Schedule in time to watch a comedy or visit with friends, and seize every opportunity for a good laugh to keep your heart happy and healthy this 2012!