Living a healthier lifestyle is key to preventing diseases linked to heart health. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 8 in 10 cases of heart disease and stroke could have been prevented through simple lifestyle changes. We’ll list out these minor changes that can be made in your life to actively prevent heart disease and stroke and to strengthen one of your most important muscles!
First things first, what is heart disease?
Heart disease is any condition that affects the function or structure of the heart. This can mean conditions like vascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart beat and rhythm disorders, heart failure, etc. are all conditions that fall under the category of heart disease. Many of these conditions can be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, unhealthy diet, smoking, stress, and not getting enough physical activity.
That being said, there are factors of heart disease that are out of your control, such as your age, your families medical history, and your sex. A woman’s risk of heart disease changes throughout her life as Estrogen has a protective effect on your heart. This effect can be altered during pregnancy, menopause, and if you are taking any form of hormonal birth control. The best thing to do is to proactively manage the factors that are within your control.
Many of the risk factors that are linked to heart disease and strokes can be controlled by following these tips to make healthy lifestyle choices:
- Eating fewer heavily processed foods is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthier diet. Processed foods typically will remove some of the nutrients in order to add more processed fats, sugar and salt.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables. These are good sources of vitamins and minerals, low in calories, and rich in fiber. Eating more fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure. Try recipes that are vegetable based, like a vegetable stir-fry, or try adding fruit to your meals, like strawberries, mango, melon, etc. into a salad. The more fruits and veggies you eat may also help you cut back on processed, salty, high calorie foods such as snacks, meat, and cheeses.
- Control your portion sizes. More often than not, we’re eating until the plate is empty, not necessarily until we’re full. Try using a smaller plate and managing portion sizes: a serving of grains like pasta or rice should be about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat should be about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. Less is more, try only eating until your body starts to slow down. If you have to force yourself to eat those last few spoonfuls, that’s your body telling you that it’s had enough.
- Select whole grain if you have an option. These are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure.
- Aerobic exercises improve circulation, which lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate. This type of exercise also helps to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and control your blood glucose levels. Types of aerobic exercise could include running, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, etc.
- Resistance training is another type of exercise. For those that may have a higher level of body fat, resistance training can help to reduce fat and create a leaner muscle mass. This type of exercise can include using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or using your body as resistance like with push ups or squats.
This one is kind of self explanatory. Smoking tobacco (or other substances) increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries, which increases your risk of blood clots, reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and, in turn, makes your heart work significantly harder than it has to in order to pump blood throughout your body. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, this added stress to the heart makes smokers 2 times more likely to have a heart attack and 2 times more likely to die from that heart attack.
Quitting smoking is not an easy task. It is a physical and psychological addiction that many people use as a stress or anxiety reliever. In order to quit successfully, you need to have a good support team.
- Tell your friends and family you’re deciding to quit and they can help you on your journey. Your doctor or medical professional can also help by prescribing some smoking cessation aids you can get on prescription.
- Set a quitting date and stick to it! If you tell yourself that you will be quitting as of a certain date, it’s easier to actually put the cigarette down instead of saying “I’ll start next week maybe”.
- Understand what your triggers are. Avoid them if you can or find a different way of managing certain stresses.
- Don’t get discouraged. It takes most people a few tries before they quit successfully. If you return to your habit, set a new date to try again.
Other ways to help prevent heart disease can be to find ways to manage your stress, maintain a healthy weight, lower your resting blood pressure and heart rate, prevent or control diabetes, and to reduce inflammation and joint pain.
If you’re looking for more ways to meet your goals, look online at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada for more support or speak to your IDA Pharmacist.