According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in America, and more than half of those are in men. 1 in every 4 deaths are due to heart disease, and every 40 seconds someone has a heart attack. Not to sound too morbid, but the facts are the facts.
Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea, lightheaded, or cold sweats.
The good news is, heart disease is largely related to lifestyle habits and choices, and we all have to power to easily lower our risk. Below are 8 ways that can help to lower your risk of heart disease.
1. Emphasize a Whole Foods Diet
Major risk factors of heart disease are high blood pressure and diabetes, which are both significantly impacted by diet. You’ll want to avoid processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats and fried foods, and foods that contribute to inflammation. Eat a diet based on whole-foods, grass-fed and pastured meats, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
2. Exercise Daily
Exercise is considered one of the natural medicines for our bodies. It helps to enhance lymphatic circulation and filters out toxins from the body. Exercise helps to prevent and control weight gain and high blood pressure, both of which can stress the heart and kidneys.
Researchers suggest that resistance training affects your cardiovascular system differently than aerobic exercise, so a workout that includes both is a great combination (1). Training with weights increases blood flow to the limbs and has positive effects on your blood pressure. It also helps to change your body composition from fat to muscle. In the long term, maintaining lean muscle mass is good for heart health.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health showed that inadequate sleep can increase the risk of stroke or a heart attack. Getting too little sleep can increase inflammation and blood pressure. You should aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. No more “burning the midnight oil”.
4. Don’t Sit For Too Long
Sedentary jobs and lifestyles increase the risk for cardiovascular events and deaths. Sitting for long periods at a time can increases the risk of blood clots (2). The study linked here compares prolong sitting events such as air travel and bus. What’s insane is that the typical job most people have require the same, if not more hours of prolong sitting. Be sure to move throughout the day by taking regular breaks, walking at lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking further from the office. Set a reminder on your laptop or smart phone for every 15-20 minutes, so you know it’s time to move.
5. Manage Stress
Stress is an underlying issue in all chronic disease, especially heart disease. Stress hormones (i.e. cortisol) narrow your blood vessels, making the heart work hard to pump blood through the narrowed pipes. Ways to manage stress include exercising, yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and even enjoying a healthy social life.
6. Stay Hydrated
Getting adequate water prevents your heart from working too hard. Water is essential and helps your heart pump blood through the blood vessels and muscles to remove wastes. A general rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink at least 75 ounces of pure, filtered water. An additional 4 ounces is recommended for every 15 minutes of intense physical activity. Stay hydrated!
7. Keep Your Mouth Clean
Dental health and overall health go hand-in-hand since most of the risk factors that are present for gum disease are also linked to heart disease. Bacteria in your mouth from gum disease may increase C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels, and a risk for cardiovascular disease. Brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease. Use an all natural toothpaste that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals such as fluoride.
8. Avoid Trans-Fat
Contrary to popular belief, we actually need fats in our diet, including saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. However, one fat to avoid at all cost, is trans fat found in packaged baked goods, snack foods, margarine and fast foods. Trans fat is known to increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Do your due diligence and read labels and avoid products with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients. Also be aware that as long as the product does not contain more than .5 grams of trans-fat per serving, the food manufacturer can legally claim 0 grams of trans-fat. So it’s very important to stay away packaged foods, and pay attention to serving size as well.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other lifestyle practices and habits that can either reduce or increase your risk for heart disease. Make a conscience effort when choosing foods, personal care products and other lifestyle habits that can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Please reach out if you want help navigating the health and nutrition space, and guidance on reducing your risk factors.