Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as infections and conditions that affect your heart's muscle, valves or beating rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
While some conditions may be congenital or hereditary, many forms of cardiovascular disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices. Here is some helpful information and healthier living tips from the American Heart Assocation:
Daily exercise can reduce the risk of fatal heart disease. Physical activity helps you control your weight and reduce chances of developing conditions that may put strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may also be a factor in heart disease.
While even a few minutes of daily exercise offers heart benefits, 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity is recommended. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, but it needs to be consistent. If a 30-minute workout is too much, break it up into three 10-minute mini-sessions. Activities can be as simple as taking a walk or doing some gardening. And if motivation is a problem, many senior living facilities or community centers offer exercise classes and programs you can join.
Avoid Tobacco Products
One of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease is tobacco use. Chemicals in tobacco can damage heart and blood vessels, causing a narrowing of the arteries that can ultimately lead to a heart attack. In addition, the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can cause your heart to work harder and increase your risk for heart attack. Eliminating tobacco use reduces the risk of heart disease dramatically within just one year.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help protect your heart and reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Limiting fat, cholesterol and salt is also important. Heart-healthy eating isn't about cutting back. It’s about moderation and making the right choices.
Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet. The goal is five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.
Following a heart-healthy diet also means drinking alcohol only in moderation. That means no more than two drinks a day for men and one a day for women. At that moderate level, alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart. More than that becomes a health hazard.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage the heart and blood vessels, but many don’t know if their levels put them at risk. Regular screenings are critical to determine if action needs to be taken to get those levels under control. Here is what a physician will look for:
- Blood pressure: Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. More frequent checks may be necessary for those at higher levels. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
- Cholesterol levels: Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20. As with blood pressure, more frequent checks may be necessary for those with higher levels. You may need more frequent testing if your numbers aren't optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease.
- Diabetes screening: Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, many physicians will screen adults for diabetes. This will depend on certain risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes.