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.
We can’t completely eliminate stress, but experts say we can find better ways to cope with it. Chronic stress doesn’t just affect our blood pressure: it can contribute to inflammation and affect our immune system too. While it can be difficult to avoid stressful situations, there are some strategies that can help. For instance, using effective communication skills and learning to say no can help with relationships. Also, eating well, exercise, relaxation techniques, volunteering, hobbies, vacations and sometimes a good cry — or a good laugh — can alleviate stress. Studies have even shown a link between spirituality and reduced stress.
Get regular check-ups
Despite all the information we have available, we should still leave the diagnoses to the doctors. As mentioned before, it’s important to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and blood pressure — especially since you might not be experiencing any symptoms. Experts warn to keep up with those annual check-ups to keep tabs on any potential problems — and treat them before they become dangerous. Regular check-ups are especially important if you already have heart disease or another condition like diabetes or an autoimmune disorder that could after your heart. It’s important to see a doctor if you notice any suspicious symptoms, and seek emergency care if you’re experiencing the signs of a heart attack or stroke. (See How to save a heart for more information.) Already taking these heart-healthy steps? You’re well ahead of most people. Making these changes won’t guarantee a life free of heart disease, but they can help us live longer and enjoy more years of good health. Medications alone can’t prevent or treat heart disease, so it’s up to us to take steps to protect our heart.
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