Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and is linked to 1 in 4 deaths. Luckily, heart disease can often be prevented or improved through healthy lifestyle changes and careful monitoring of one’s health with their doctor. American Heart Month was created by the American Heart Association to help raise awareness about heart disease and how to help prevent it at individual and community levels. Most of the recommendations can be adapted to fit into your individual lifestyle and provide a large health boost for a small amount of effort.
1. Maintain consistent wellness appointments with your doctor
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes/prediabetes are all factors that increase your risk of heart disease. Regular visits and testing (at the frequency recommended by your doctor) can help catch any changes early so that they can be corrected before developing into a larger problem. They will be able to advise any specific changes to help keep your body healthy, whether it’s through medication or lifestyle changes.
2. Reduce stress levels
Increased stress over a long period of time can raise your blood pressure, douse your body in stress hormones, and even alter the way that your blood clots– all of which increase your risk. If you find that you are excessively stressful, think of ways to help you relax. Some people find that meditation works for them, or reading a book every night, yoga, breathing exercises, etc. Everyone’s different, and has different triggers and tactics– so if you haven’t already, take the time to get to know your body and its cues.
3. Stop smoking– if you don’t already, don’t start
Many people associate smoking with lung disease, but about 20% of death from heart disease are directly related to cigarette smoking. The risk of heart problems increases proportionately to the amount of cigarettes you smoke, by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, as well as blood clots and damage to coronary artery linings. The risk from smoking isn’t limited to the smoker, however– it also increases the chances of respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease to everyone exposed to the second-hand smoke, especially children.
4. Make exercise a routine
Consistent exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, as it fights against many of the risk factors of heart disease, as well as a variety of other ailments. It strengthens your heart (the most important muscle!), lowers blood pressure, helps to maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and improves sleep, just to name a few. While no specific routine fits the needs of everyone, it’s generally advised to start by stretching, then do a combination of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise (which helps your heart most) and strength training (which help to build and tone muscles). The CDC recommends that adults need two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking (or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running) weekly, as well as 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). While the recommendations may sound daunting, it’s quite manageable when spread throughout the week, and can be done in small increments such as a 10 minute walk during your lunch break.
As you can see, there’s a wide variety of ways that one can lower their risk of heart problems in the future– even if it seems daunting to take on so much change in a short time, every little bit helps. Adopting one new habit at a time and making it part of your routine before picking up the next change increases the likelihood that the new, healthy practices won’t be dropped in the future.