Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And while it’s common to hear that such a condition “runs in the family,” the reality is that it’s often caused by the standard American diet and leading a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, the empty calories from added sugar and trans fats make up about 40% of the diet of children and teenagers in the country — soda, pizza, desserts, whole milk. These types of foods cause inflammation and a myriad of health issues that lead to heart disease. But, what exactly, is heart disease? And what can you do to turn things around?
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is an umbrella term that refers to several health conditions, including issues with the blood vessels, arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), issues with the heart muscle, and heart infections, to name a few. It can also include heart conditions caused by congenital defects. However, for most people, heart disease can be prevented or managed with healthy lifestyle choices.
7 Lifestyle Changes for Heart Disease Prevention
1. Eat Healthy
This will take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier and becomes second nature. When choosing your meals, make sure to always include vegetables, whole grains, and/or fruit. If it comes wrapped in a package, choose something else. Pay close attention to fiber and protein so that you feel satisfied and fuller for longer. Whenever possible, opt for whole foods instead of the processed variety. Substitute flavored sparkling water for sodas. Keep healthy foods available for snacking — such as nuts, apple slices with almond butter, baby carrots with hummus, berries, or other fruits.
2. Exercise Regularly
For a lot of people, the thought of exercise sounds like a chore, something to dread. However, looking at it this way makes it unsustainable. To stick with something long-term, you have to find something you look forward to. Fortunately, there are ways to make it enjoyable — such as going on long walks with a good friend, dancing to your favorite music, creating playlists to listen to while you’re on a treadmill, downloading apps to track your progress, and/or purchasing Wii Fit games. Popular exercise programs, such as Peloton, Orange Theory at Home, Jillian Michaels, Noom, or even YouTube videos can help keep you motivated and on track.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you’re overweight, losing excess fat will reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as Type II diabetes and certain types of cancer. That said, don’t go by what the traditional standards of “beauty” dictate. What’s considered healthy varies by height and body type. If you’re not sure what your ideal weight range should be, a good starting point is to determine your body mass index (BMI). A healthy BMI ranges between 18.5 and 24.9. To find out yours, use a BMI calculator. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered to be overweight, while anything 30 or greater is considered to be obese. In addition, some gyms and medical providers use technology to measure body fat percentage. This provides a more accurate picture of your health.
4. Quit Smoking
It’s no secret that smoking is abysmal for your health. In fact, it causes more deaths every single year than illegal drug use, excessive consumption of alcohol, car crash and firearm injuries, and HIV, combined. It also increases the risk of heart disease because every time you smoke, your blood pressure increases, your heart rate speeds up, your heart gets less oxygen, and you have a higher likelihood of developing blood clots — which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. To quit smoking, you can use resources such as counseling, medications, or even quitting cold-turkey. However, you have to have an adequate support system to help you get through it. Talk with your healthcare provider to see how to get started.
5. Get Enough Sleep
When life gets busy, it’s common to put sleep on the back burner. From the surface, it seems like the least important thing when you have a lot of things on your plate. However, not getting enough sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. This is because skipping sleep causes sugar to build up in your blood. It also affects the part of the brain that controls hunger. If you have a hard time falling asleep, there are certain things you can do to facilitate the process. This includes being physically active throughout the day, avoiding watching TV or using your computer/smartphone/tablet within a few hours before bedtime, keeping your bedroom at 68 degrees overnight, and sticking to a regular sleeping schedule — even on weekends.
6. Reduce Stress
People with high levels of stress have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks. This is because when you’re stressed out, your body releases adrenaline, which causes your blood pressure to rise and your heart rate to speed up. This is part of the fight or flight response to get you out of danger. However, most stressors of everyday life have nothing to do with getting away from a bear, and more to do with job deadlines, too many bills and too little money to pay them with, a car that won’t start when you’re in a hurry, high conflict relationships, and so on.
Long-term, these responses from your body can lead to a long list of health issues, such as headaches, stomach discomfort, and heart disease. Managing stress can be easier said than done, yet it’s still essential to keep your heart healthy. Good starting points include exercise, meditation, and working towards removing some of the most stressful parts of your life — such as changing jobs, careers, or leaving a relationship.
7. Lower Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects close to half the population in the country. This is the measurement of the pressure blood exerts on your veins and arteries when circulating blood, and it can be caused by a lot of things — underlying health conditions, certain medications, stress, and obesity. To lower it, you have to commit to the same lifestyle changes listed above, as well as discuss with your healthcare provider whether any drugs you’re currently taking may be affecting your blood pressure.
If You Want to Prevent or Manage Heart Disease, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including pneumonia vaccine. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.