Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States and has been for the past 100 years. Older adults over the age of 65 are at greater risk than younger adults to having a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. That is why it's important to start living a heart healthy lifestyle as soon as possible.
The heart and blood vessels change as a person ages, which make the arteries harden and in turn makes the heart work harder during physical activity. Not only that, but these changes can make an older adult more prone to high blood pressure and more sensitive to salt. These changes do not mean that you are destined to develop heart disease, though. There are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of heart disease.
Although you can't change your family history, you can change the way you engage in daily activities of living. This means you can alter the way you eat and the way you move, for example. Let's discuss heart disease, what lifestyle changes you can make to prevent your risk and ways you can adopt a heart healthy diet today.
Coronary artery disease, which is what many people mean when they say heart disease, is a type of heart disease where the arteries have a hard time moving oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the heart. This type of heart disease is the most common and happens when plaques form in the lining of the arteries, in turn hardening them.
Other forms of heart disease include:
These are just some of the forms of heart disease that your doctor may talk to you about if you are at risk.
If you have risk factors of heart disease, then you will have a greater chance of developing heart disease in your lifetime. There are some risk factors that you can control and some you can't. Those uncontrollable risk factors include:
Luckily, there are some risk factors you can control to help lower your risk of developing heart disease. These controllable risk factors include:
Surgery and medications are a few ways to treat heart disease once it has already begun. However, certain lifestyle changes can also help, and in some cases, prevent heart disease from starting.
Quitting smoking is not easy, but it could save your life. Not only does smoking increase your risk of lung diseases and certain cancers, but it also increases your risk of heart disease. If you need help quitting, you can contact Smokefree.gov for more resources.
Most adults should limit sodium intake to about 2,300 milligrams daily, while those who have a history of heart disease, or are at greater risk than others of heart disease, should stick to no more than 1,500 milligrams sodium daily.
When it comes to fat, you don't have to avoid fat to reduce heart disease risk, but just focus more on unsaturated fats from fatty fish like salmon, trout and tuna, as well as from plant-based sources like nuts, nut butters and seeds. These plant-based sources are more heart healthy than saturated fats from fatty meats, lard and butter, for example.
Try to move at least 30 minutes daily to keep your heart strong. Walking and other gentle movements like gardening and house cleaning, all count toward these 30 minutes.
Unlike popular belief, any alcohol, even red wine, is not recommended to help reduce heart disease risk. In fact, research shows that 14 standard drinks of alcohol weekly, which was once considered a “standard intake” for men, can significantly increase one's risk for heart disease.
One standard drink of alcohol is equal to 12 ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol per volume), 8 ounces of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol per volume), 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol per volume), or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (about 40% alcohol per volume). Therefore, try to limit intake of alcohol as much as possible because studies show that no amount of alcohol is healthy for your body or mind.
Research shows that using methods such as HRV biofeedback, or relaxation type breathing exercises, to manage stress can help improve heart health outcomes. You can also manage stress through methods such as talk therapy, yoga, meditation and exercise, for example.
Brushing your teeth and gums twice daily, flossing your teeth daily and visiting the dentist twice a year can all help reduce your risk of heart disease. Such lifestyle behaviors can prevent gum disease, tooth loss and bacterial infections that can all increase risk of heart disease.
Put simply, a heart healthy diet is one that includes foods that help support the health of your body and heart. However, the guidelines for such a way of eating may differ depending on who you talk to. The following heart healthy diet guidelines are based on evidence-based research from health experts.
Research shows that eating regimens like the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) as well as the Mediterranean diet are effective ways to lower risk of heart disease.
The DASH diet consists of the following guidelines:
The Mediterranean diet consists of the following guidelines:
If you want to eat a more heart healthy diet each day, you don't really need to follow a special diet though. By simply reducing your saturated fat intake, limiting sodium intake and eating more fiber in your daily routine, you can reap heart health benefits without sacrificing flavor and enjoyment of your meals and snacks.
And as you'll notice, eggs are part of a heart healthy diet. In fact, research shows that one egg a day can help reduce one's risk of heart disease and stroke. Let's look at some meal and snack ideas that fit perfectly within the heart healthy lifestyle.
A balanced, heart-healthy meal should consist of a source of protein, fiber-rich whole-grain or starchy vegetable (rice, corn, beans, potato, sweet potato), a non-starchy vegetable (leafy greens, carrots, green beans, etc.) as well as a healthy fat source (plant-based oil, butter, avocado, nuts and/or seeds).
When you enjoy a snack, it's important to always pair a fruit, vegetable or whole-grain food with a protein-rich food to help satisfy your appetite in between meals and provide essential nutrients in your daily routine.
Letting go of long held lifestyle behaviors in exchange for new ones is not easy. But you don't have to change everything all at once. Just take your heart healthy lifestyle improvements one at a time. Maybe start eating one cup more of vegetables each day first. Then, start moving for 10 minutes more per day than usual. If you need help reducing your alcohol intake or need support to quit smoking, you can make an appointment with your health care provider for resources.
Each small change you make will add up to great benefits for your heart health over time. And if you need help starting such a lifestyle, never hesitate to ask a professional such as a registered dietitian, exercise specialist or psychologist for help with healthy eating, exercise or stress management, respectively. Call your insurance company to see if such provider appointments and other health and wellness resources such as fitness center discounts are covered by your plan.
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