Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It can strike anyone—but there are ways to reduce your risk. Healthy habits can decrease your chances of getting heart disease. The key components are nutrition, physical activity, and weight management. And of course, the big one: quitting smoking.
If this seems overwhelming, remember—you can start slow and work up to big changes! Think of these wise words from ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Smoking Kills; Quitting Saves
If you smoke, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health is quit. Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. And that’s not all. The American Heart Association says:
- Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Almost one third of deaths from coronary heart disease are attributable to smoking and secondhand smoke.
- Smoking is linked to about 90% of lung cancer cases in the United States.
- On average, smokers die more than 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
With odds like these, it’s amazing that anyone still smokes! Unfortunately cigarettes are extremely addictive—and tobacco companies are making millions of dollars off the world’s addiction to them. If you are intimidated by the idea of quitting, try thinking of it like this: you are going to be a statistic either way. It’s your choice to be an illness or death statistic or a successful quitter statistic!
Resources for Quitting Smoking
There is a wealth of resources available to people who want to quit smoking. You can start with the American Heart Association’s tips and tools or look for resources in your area. Here in Maryland, you can access:
- The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services Stopping Smoking classes.
- Maryland’s Tobacco Resource Center: MDQuit
- Montgomery County Cancer Crusade
You can do it!
Eating with nutrition in mind and maintaining a healthy weight go hand-in-hand when it comes to preventing heart disease. If you’re like a lot of Americans, eating healthy is probably always on your mind, but not always on your plate. Foods high in sodium, fat, and cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. If eating these kinds of foods is the norm for you, you may find it difficult to change your diet. But just as we remarked at the beginning of this post, it’s okay to start slow! Making small changes can lead to bigger ones. Start with adding more of these foods to your diet:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Lean poultry, fish, and nuts
The key to adding more healthy foods to your daily routine is preparation. Think of the old saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Make sure you have healthy snacks with you or within easy reach throughout your day so that you don’t grab the easy, less healthy choices when you’re hungry.
Get lots of resources, including recipes, weight-management tools, and grocery-shopping tips, from the American Heart Association.
Walk, Run, Ride—Activate Heart Health with Exercise
Thirty minutes, five times a week: can you fit that much physical activity into your schedule? Chances are you can—if you commit to it. This is the minimum amount of exercise recommended to combat the risk of heart disease and stroke in adults.
Unfortunately many Americans lead sedentary lives. If you work in an office environment, you likely spend most of your day sitting. That’s why getting up and moving is so critical. You can start an activity habit by getting up and walking around a few times during the day. Add in a lunchtime stroll if you can. Then figure out ways you can get some exercise in before and/or after work. Your heart will thank you!
Get some great tips for getting active, no matter your age or current activity level.
Lose Weight to Gain Heart Health
When you successfully add heart-healthy eating and physical activity to your lifestyle, weight loss will likely be a pleasing side effect. But if you are currently overweight or obese, you will need to make a more concentrated effort to shed pounds.
How does weight affect heart health? Excess weight:
- Makes you heart work harder
- Raises your blood pressure
- Increases your blood cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol levels
- Increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease
Getting rid of that excess weight has a number of benefits! In addition to decreasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, dropping down to and maintaining a healthy weight will help you feel more energetic, help regulate your sleep habits, and so much more.
How to Get Started Losing Weight
Weight loss is a simple calculation: burn more calories than you take in. Of course, it’s only that simple on paper. Avoid trendy diets or weight-loss plans—it’s harder to make real lifestyle changes with these. What you want are new habits you can stick with for life.
- Check out these smart weight loss goals
- Seek medical advice for losing weight with a physician-supervised weight loss program
Losing weight is tough for everyone. It can be an emotional struggle as well as a physical one. But the benefits are enormous and will last the rest of your life.
Women and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Women are more likely to experience different symptoms when they are having a heart attack—symptoms that they may not recognize as those of a heart attack. These include:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
When men have heart attacks, they usually just experience the pressure and pain in the chest that is the most common and obvious symptom. But when women have heart attacks, they may only experience the other, less obvious symptoms. Many women don’t even realize they are having a heart attack when one strikes.
How Women Can Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease
Lifestyle changes such as the ones described earlier in this post are the best ways to reduce women’s risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign calls these changes “The Simple 7.” They are:
- Get active
- Control cholesterol
- Eat better
- Manage blood pressure
- Lose weight
- Reduce blood sugar
- Stop smoking
Learn more about women and heart disease.
Get Heart Healthy with Regular Checkups
Are you concerned about your heart health? See your regular doctor or visit the board-certified doctors and clinicians at Fast Track Urgent Care. To learn more about our checkups, well visits, and other services, call 800-417-1164.