Heart disease is a serious health problem that claims the lives of more than 600,000 people in the U.S. every year. While there are some risk factors that can’t be changed – for example, ethnicity can play a role in how likely one is to die from heart disease, as can age – there are some factors people have control over that can lower their overall risk.
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any condition that affects the heart and blood vessels, explains Honglan Wang, an experienced pharmaceutical research consultant. It can also point to an irregular heartbeat, medically known as arrhythmia, which can be life-threatening.
Some of the risk factors may not be apparent to the patient, which is why regular visits to the doctor are important. For example, there are often no symptoms of high blood pressure that can lead to heart disease. However, once it has been determined a patient’s blood pressure is too high – which is the case for more than 50 million Americans – then some lifestyle changes can be made to lessen the impact.
1. Get Moving
One of the best ways to naturally reduce the risk of heart disease is by getting the proper amount of exercise. Research has shown that just one active session can have short-term and longer-term benefits for your heart. Getting regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure, while helping arteries in the heart to dilate more easily over time.
Meanwhile, exercise is still recommended even for patients who have already been diagnosed with heart disease. The activity can be as simple as walking or even gardening, the latter enjoyed by Honglan Wang. But regardless of what exercise is chosen, a patient will need guidance from a healthcare team to ensure it’s safe for their current condition.
2. Modify Your Diet
A diet that’s heavy in cholesterol and fat can lead to a higher heart disease risk. High cholesterol is another condition that likely won’t be noticed by a patient until there’s a medical episode, or a physician checks them.
A heart-friendly diet consists of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and nuts. Additionally some fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial in limited quantities.
Another way to lower heart disease risk is by cutting salt, which can increase blood pressure by reducing the kidney’s ability to remove excess water. Guidelines for the maximum sodium a person should have in a day dictates no more than 2,300 mg, although the average daily intake in the U.S. is 3,400 mg. Keep in mind that sodium intake isn’t just from adding salt from a shaker – it’s also hiding in processed meals as well as restaurant fare.
3. Quit Smoking
Cigarettes have been tied to around 20 percent of deaths in America each year, affecting the function of the heart and even the blood cells. Smoking regularly can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis that causes plaque buildup in the arteries.
Dropping the habit, which is easier said than done for many long-term smokers, can lower the risk. There are some prescription medications such as varenicline and bupropio as well as over-the-counter products available to aid in smoking cessation. Nicotine replacement therapy is another approach that can help, which can be combined with the cessation drugs.
Honglan Wang notes that chewing sugarless gum to keep the mouth occupied, as well as creating distractions are more natural ways to curb smoking habits.
4. Learn Stress Management
Stress is a fact of life but learning how to deal with it more effectively or changing a stressful setting can play a major role in lowering one’s risk of heart disease. Stress and anger that’s not dealt through effective management can have a number of negative effects on the heart, such as raising blood pressure while weakening the immune system.
Deep breathing and meditation are increasingly popular ways of dealing with the stresses of life. Guided imagery is a form of meditation that involves picturing places or situations that are relaxing, with instruction from a guide.
Other major ways to help the body and mind cope is by getting enough sleep – at least 7 hours for adults. Better managing time to avoid juggling multiple responsibilities can lessen the physical and mental burden.
Meanwhile, self-medicating through alcohol and drugs (or food) can increase heart disease risk, while possibly masking symptoms that would prompt a visit to the doctor.
By changing some of the factors that are within one’s control, a sense of well-being can be increased while lowering heart disease risk, concludes Honglan Wang.