Habits for a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
Heart disease is a top killer worldwide -- but our lifestyle choices can go a long way toward reducing our risk. We round up the basics to living well.
BY: Elizabeth Rogers of 50Plus.com
Get active (and stay active)
Exercise has many benefits for the heart– such as lowering blood pressure, helping control blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress and increasing good cholesterol levels. Experts estimate that people who aren’t currently active can cut their risk of a heart attack by as much as 35-55 per cent simply by getting more exercise.
Aim for a healthy weight
Those extra pounds contribute to heart disease as well as conditions that impact the heart like diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. However, obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight requires lifestyle changes, not just short-term sacrifice. Experts say slow weight loss — about one to two pounds (or one kilogram) a week — is best. Fad diets aren’t sustainable, and your body starts to deplete muscle mass when it goes into starvation mode. If you need a little help beyond exercise and a healthy diet, talk to your doctor. Some health issues like hypothyroidism and drug side effects can impact your weight. For more information, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Healthy Weight Action Plan™. Manage blood pressure Experts warn that high blood pressure (or hypertension) is one of the most dangerous risk factors for heart disease.
Worse yet, incidence is on the rise. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, hypertension affects one in five people. If you can control your blood pressure, you can cut your heart attack risk by up to 25 per cent — and your risk of stroke by up to 40 per cent. Beware: hypertension is called the “silent killer” for a reason — there are no warning signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years after the age of 20 — more often if you already have hypertension — and keep up with your healthy habits like exercising and cutting your sodium intake. Control cholesterol Are you within a healthy range? Nearly 40 per cent of Canadians have blood cholesterol levels that are higher than they should be — and dangerous levels of plaque could be building up in their arteries.
Atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, is a significant risk factor for circulatory problems, heart disease and stroke. Again, you won’t experience symptoms. That’s why experts recommend getting regular checks — otherwise healthy men should start after age 40, and women over age 50 or following menopause. How can you get the number down? Diet plays a role — and experts recommend steering clear of those saturated fats, trans fats and dietary cholesterol and choosing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead. Fibre can also help lower bad LDL cholesterol — including foods with plant sterols.
Avoid smoking and tobacco
It isn’t just bad for your lungs. Smoking also raises cholesterol levels, and it’s a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Roughly 30 per cent of the 37,000 smoking-related deaths each year are heart disease or stroke-related. Even if you don’t smoke, second hand smoke and tobacco use still increases the risk of cardiovascular disease — especially for women. Think it’s too late because “the damage has been done”? Experts say within one year of going smoke-free, people can cut their risk of heart disease in half regardless of how long they smoked. When they hit the 15-year mark, their risk of dying from heart disease will almost equal a non-smoker’s.
Control blood sugar
Cardiovascular disease often goes hand-in-hand with diabetes, and 80 per cent of people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke. Diabetes increases the risk of hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, stroke and damage to the blood vessels. Controlling blood sugar is key to keeping this risk in check. Unfortunately, some people don’t know they have type-2 diabetes or are in that crucial pre-diabetes stage where the condition can be reversed. You likely won’t experience symptoms in the early stages — but it will show up on routine blood work. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends screening tests once every three years after the age of 40 — earlier and more often if you’re in a high-risk group.