According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.7% of American adults have heart disease—and those are just the ones who’ve been diagnosed. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. 610,000 Americans die of heart disease every year—that equates to 1 in 4 deaths annually.
While the numbers look staggering, there are a few simple ways we can work to combat the disease and keep heart disease at bay.
Eight things you can do to prevent heart disease
- Stop smoking: One of the most preventable ways to avoid heart disease is to stop smoking. Those who smoke have twice the risk of suffering from a heart attack compared to those who do not. Make sure to eliminate the use of tobacco products and stay away from those who smoke as well—secondhand smoke is just as harmful.
- Check your numbers: Lower your total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels if they are on the high side of the numbers scale. In general, it is recommended to have your levels checked as early as the age of 20. Your healthcare provider can tell you exactly how often to undergo a screening. Here is general guide for the levels:
- Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl.
- LDL cholesterol should be less than 70 mg/dl for those with heart or blood vessel disease.
- LDL should be less than 100 mg/dl for those who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease, such as some patients with diabetes or those who have multiple heart disease risk factors.
- For all others, LDL cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dl.
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl.
- Control diabetes: Diabetes happens when the body is unable to produce insulin or use the insulin it has. This means blood sugar levels are elevated in the body. Due to this, people with diabetes have a higher chance of suffering from heart disease because diabetes increases cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. Make sure to have your blood sugar levels tested regularly and keep your insulin in check if you do have diabetes.
- Lose weight: We all understand the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, but this is critical when dealing with heart disease. The more a person weighs, the harder the heart must work to give the body nutrients. Excess weight has been shown to increase our cholesterol, triglycerides and increase the risk of diabetes. That’s right, all these factors can exacerbate heart disease.
- Where you carry your weight matters as well. Those who tend to carry weight in the middle section have a higher chance of developing heart disease. It’s important to keep your waist measurement in check. Men should aim to keep their waist measurement less than 40 inches. Women should aim to keep it to less than 35 inches.
- Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). To know your BMI, try our BMI calculator.
- Get your heart pumping: We’ve heard it before and again, but exercise is a great way to protect your heart from cardiovascular disease. Exercise helps improve how the heart pumps blood through the body and it helps lower other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stress. Make sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and aim for 10,000 steps a day. Always remember to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regime.
- Eat more heart-healthy foods: Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Eat foods that are low in sodium, fat, cholesterol and refined sugar.
- Incorporate more Omega-3s in your diet. These are found in salmon, tuna, flaxseed and almonds.
- Use more mono-unsaturated products like olive and peanut oils.
- Fill your plate with items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and egg whites.
- Limit alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol has been shown to lead to increased blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. Those who do suffer from heart conditions are advised to stay away from alcohol as it can worsen the problem. Research has shown that heavy drinkers who cut back on drinking have been able to reduce their risk of stroke. According to the American Heart Association, drinking in moderation means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Drinking more than this amount can increase the risk of heart disease and other health-related complications.
- Stress management: Stress affects our behaviors in various ways. Stressful situations can set off a chain of negative events and cause the body to release adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your heart rate to speed up which raises blood pressure. This is when your “fight or flight” response kicks in. It’s a normal and natural way for us to deal with stress, but when stress is constant it keeps the body in chronic stress which does no help to the heart.
- Chronic stress can also cause people to lose sleep, indulge in overconsumption of alcohol and overeat. Take part in activities like yoga, meditation and self-care to control stress levels.
Pay Attention to Symptoms
Even if someone takes all the precautions, they may still suffer from heart disease without realizing it. That’s why it’s vital to listen to your body. Symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
- Angina, or chest pain. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing, or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest)
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
Symptoms of heart disease can take many different forms. If you’re experiencing one or more of these problems and aren’t sure what’s going on, it’s better to be on the safe side and visit your doctor.