Heart disease is America’s leading cause of death, topping even cancer. If your family has a history with this disease, unfortunately, you’re at a higher risk of facing it yourself. There’s no need to panic though, as being prone to heart disease does not guarantee you’ll get it. Knowing that you’re at risk allows you to adopt proactive heart-healthy habits now, so that you can prevent the disease later. Check out some information on the different kinds of heart disease and the healthy habits you can implement to fight this dangerous condition.
Kinds of Heart Disease
Heart disease is diagnosed under many names, some of the more common ones are known as heart attack, ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, heart failure, and arrhythmia.
- A heart attack occurs when a blood clot fully or partially stops an artery’s blood flow to your heart.
- An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the blood flow to your brain. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when one of the brain’s blood vessels bursts.
- Heart failure, or congestive heart failure, means your heart is not pumping blood at the level it should be.
- Arrhythmia is a heart rhythm condition. Your heart rate may be too high, too low, or irregular.
Causes of Heart Disease
One of the major causes of cardiovascular diseases is fatty cholesterol plaque. Plaque collecting in your arteries is called atherosclerosis, and it can prevent normal blood flow. When the plaque ruptures, a blood clot forms to cover it, blocking the blood flow and causing a heart attack or stroke.
Thankfully, plaque is often caused by things you can actually control, such as a poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, high cholesterol, excessive alcohol, and stress.
Plaque worsens over time, so the best way to fight heart disease is to start living a healthy life now. Just making a healthy choice once a week won’t be enough, though. Healthy choices need to become a consistent, essential part of your life.
Your regular diet significantly affects your heart and if you’re continually filling your body with fatty, sugary foods, you’re putting yourself at greater risk of disease.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Added sugars
- Saturated fat
Rather than trying to suddenly eliminate all fatty foods from your diet, try substituting certain foods with healthier ones. For example, replace butter with soft margarine and ice cream bars with frozen fruit bars. Don’t give yourself the chance to choose an unhealthy option—keep your house stocked only with these substitute foods.
Regular exercise requires commitment and is a habit you have to build over time. The more regularly you exercise, the stronger you get, allowing you to exercise longer and more often with less fatigue.
If weight-lifting isn’t your thing, don’t give up on exercise completely! Regular exercise can help your blood pressure, weight management, and cholesterol levels. Find which exercises you can tolerate and form a schedule for when to do them.
Find simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your day. Stand up and move around whenever you take a phone call. Go on evening strolls or do stretches while watching TV. Even parking further from buildings than usual will give you an added opportunity to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing.
Alternative forms of regular exercise include:
According to the American Heart Association, men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks a day, and women no more than one. Drinking more than the recommended amount can lead to a stroke, arrhythmia, and all the other types of heart disease. Binge drinking, in particular, disrupts your heart’s rhythm and may cause arrhythmia.
Smoking also heightens your chances of cardiovascular disease by making you more susceptible to plaque buildup. When this habit is combined with other risk factors, your probability of developing this disease increases even more.
Rather than dwell on what you’ll miss by giving up smoking, focus on the benefits. For example, your sense of taste and smell will improve and your shortness of breath during physical exertion will lessen—all within a month of quitting. According to the American Heart Association, your risk of coronary heart disease is also reduced by up to 50% after a year of not smoking.
Stress should be an occasional unfortunate reality, not a constant description of your life. Eliminate unnecessary things causing you additional stress and don’t overwork or overcommit yourself. Choose your priorities and unashamedly stick to them. Although everyone reacts differently to stress, most people resort to unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol, overeating, or smoking.
The longer you refuse to manage stress, the stronger your heart-destructive habits become. Ironically, beating stress requires that you eliminate the very habits you’ve built because of it. Exercising, drinking less coffee, and eating healthy foods can all reduce your internal stress level.
Besides paying attention to what you eat, you should also focus on how much you eat. Use the size of your hand to determine healthy portion sizes for each food group during a meal. If you always eat all the food on your plate, buy smaller plates and get rid of your larger ones. You should also split your meal when dining out, sharing with a friend or saving the rest for later.
You can further cut down on your daily calorie intake by drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day. Not only does water fill you up, but it improves your tolerance for exercise and doesn’t contribute any calories to your daily count.
No one but you can keep your heart healthy. Preventing disease now will be better than trying to recover from it later. Protect this life-giving organ by managing your stress and weight, choosing heart-healthy foods and exercise routines, and eliminating hurtful habits.