Six Steps to Good Heart Health: Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease accounts for the deaths of more than 17.3 million people per year, making it the leading cause of death worldwide. While millions of people each year die from heart disease, it is possible and essential to take steps toward a healthy heart. The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) is dedicated to helping patients reduce their risk of heart disease.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease takes several different forms, but the most common is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD involves the build up of fats, cholesterol and calcium on the vessel walls that supply blood to the heart. The vessels narrow as the build-up thickens, preventing blood flow to the heart. Diminishing blood flow to the heart can result in a heart attack, heart failure or even death.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
It's important to be aware of the risk factors for heart disease and work to reduce your risk. Modifiable risk factors, or risk factors that a patient can control, include weight and obesity, smoking, poor diet or nutrition, high blood pressure, inactive lifestyle, high cholesterol, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, stress and anxiety.
Some risk factors for heart disease can't be changed. These are considered non-modifiable and include age, race, gender and family history of heart disease. Patients don't have control over these risk factors, which makes it even more important to work on the modifiable risk factors for heart disease they can influence with diet and behavior changes.
What are the Steps to a Healthy Heart?
Determining your risk factors for heart disease is just the first step -- Once you're familiar with your risk, it's time to get to work on reducing your risk of heart disease with these six steps.
- Get regular exercise
"Do aerobic exercise to prevent heart disease-- like walking, cycling, jogging and swimming — to get the blood pumping. You'll want to aim for at least two and a half hours each week — that's 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days per week. Add in some strength training for your major muscle groups two days a week," explains Sam Aznaurov, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist with Aurora Denver Cardiology Associates. "Regular exercise is essential to preventing heart disease."
- Adopt a diet for heart health
"Try to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains in your diet. A healthy diet for your heart should include foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sugar and salt. Also, limiting your total calories to a reasonable amount is important. For most people, targeting a 2,000-calorie daily intake is a realistic goal for getting to and maintaining a reasonable weight," adds Aznaurov.
- Work on your weight
Each body is different, and each patient has a different weight that is healthy and achievable for them. "Targeting a body mass index (BMI) of 20-25 can help you figure out your ideal body weight," says Aznaurov. While each person's healthy weight is different, obesity is unhealthy and can increase your risk for heart disease. In order to fight against obesity and heart disease, it's important to eat healthy and exercise.
- Avoid tobacco consumption
Tobacco consumption is a risk factor for heart disease, so it's essential to not smoke. "And remember that chewing tobacco is just as harmful to the heart as smoking," adds Aznaurov. If you do smoke or using chewing tobacco, your doctor can help you find ways to quit.
- Limit your drinking
Don't consume alcohol in excess. Stick to drinking in moderation, or less than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
- Watch out for other medical conditions
Several medical conditions can increase your risk for heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. You can work to control these conditions with a healthy diet, exercising and taking any prescribed medications. Maintaining your medical conditions will lead to greater health overall and lower your risk for heart disease.