Heart of Gold
By David Buice
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, and about 630,000 Americans die annually from heart disease.
The good news is you don’t have to accept heart disease as an inevitability. There are risk factors you can’t control, like your age, ethnicity, and family, but there’s plenty you can do to promote a healthy heart too. Beyond regular exercise, here are seven additional steps anyone can take to promote good heart health.
Regular exercise is a given. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging/running or brisk cycling.
Don’t use tobacco and avoid second-hand smoke
No amount of smoking or exposure to smoke is safe, and the more you smoke, the greater your risk becomes as arteries narrow, blood pressure increases, and oxygen in your blood decreases. Fortunately, the risk begins to drop soon after you stop smoking, and after 15 years your risk falls to about the level of someone who’s never smoked.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps protect your heart. Limit salt and sugar consumption. Limit saturated fats (red meats, full-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils) to five percent of your daily calories. Try to avoid trans fats (deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, margarines, chips, crackers, and cookies) altogether. Also, drink alcohol in moderation, meaning one drink a day for men over 65 and women, and two drinks daily for men under 65.
Diabetes doubles your risk of diabetic heart disease as over time high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. It’s important to have regular checkups and be tested for diabetes. If you have it, keep it under control.
Stress raises blood pressure and extreme stress can bring on a heart attack. Also, some ways of coping with stress—overeating, smoking, and drinking—are bad for the heart. Some healthy stress relievers include deep breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxing music.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight increases your risk of heart disease, and waist circumference can be a useful tool to measure abdominal fat. For men a waist size over 40 inches is considered overweight, and for women it’s a waist over 35 inches. Reducing your weight by only three to five percent can reduce the risk of diabetes.
Get enough quality sleep
Don’t feel guilty about making sleep a priority. A rule of thumb: If you wake up without your alarm and feel refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep.