Cancer is one of the scariest diagnoses one can receive. This is likely because most of us associate cancer with death – or at least a very high risk of it. While cancer is very serious, it is actually the second leading cause of death in the United States. That’s right, there is a disease out there that we should all be more afraid of, and that’s heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and its symptoms can be silent. Thankfully, it is completely preventable.
What Is Heart Disease?
Approximately 659,000 Americans die yearly from heart-related causes, including heart attack and stroke. The more technical term for heart disease is Coronary Heart Disease. It refers to a reduction in blood flow through the coronary arteries, the vessels that carry oxygenated blood back to your heart. As the leading cause of death in the country, more people should be worried about heart disease as they are about cancer – and yet, they’re not. Or at least they don’t seem to be. (1)
What Causes Heart Disease?
Many things increase your risk of developing heart disease. While some of them are not preventable, most of them are. For example, older age and family history automatically put you at higher risk. Most things that increase your risk of heart disease are highly preventable, as they are all related to lifestyle. (2) These include (3):
- Being overweight and obese
- Excessive drinking
- A sedentary lifestyle (lacking in physical exercise)
- A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, and salt
- High LDL (“bad) cholesterol in your blood and/or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol in your blood.
- High blood pressure
Naturally, these are all things that, if you identify with any of them, you have the power to change. Take the following steps to improve your heart health and decrease your risk of premature death. The best part is that by taking these steps, you will also protect yourself from other illnesses, such as cancer.
If you are currently smoking, this is a habit that should be on your “to kick” list. Beyond causing hypertension, it also is directly linked to lung cancer, mouth cancers, and so many other issues. On top of that, it yellows your teeth, causes wrinkles, and makes your skin dry out and look dull. If you already have heart disease and smoke, your risk of having a sudden heart attack and dying increases by about 50%.
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Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to prevent heart health problems. This includes both aerobic activity (aka “cardio”) and muscle-strengthening activity – not one or the other. The current recommendations are two and a half hours of aerobic exercise each week at a moderate intensity or one and a half hours if it is high intensity. Think about a brisk walk as moderate versus running, which would be vigorous. The recommendations for strength training are at least two days per week.
Eat A Heart Healthy Diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet, which truthfully is just a regular healthy diet and isn’t that complicated. It is based on eating little to no processed foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt and instead focusing on whole foods. This is a diet based on vegetables, fruits, high-fiber grains and legumes, some lean meats and fatty fish, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and oils such as olive or avocado. Finally, even if they are healthy foods, sticking within a calorie intake appropriate for your age, size, sex, and activity level is crucially important.
The Bottom Line
Diet and lifestyle factors that reduce your risk of heart disease are within our grasp, yet so many people fail to do so. If you are already living a healthy lifestyle, continue to do so, and make sure you also continue to have your yearly exam from your doctor. If you fall into any categories that put you at risk, know that it is not a lost cause. You can make changes to make your body and lifestyle healthier.
Not only that, but a family history of heart disease, being overweight, or anything else doesn’t have to mean that you have to follow that path. You are in control of your own life and how you live it. Start making small changes every day and in six months to a year, you can drastically reduce your risk of disease and feel way better in the process.
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