After decades of steady decline, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) has risen over the past few years, according to the American Heart Association.
The good news is that an estimated 80% of all CVD cases — heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke — can be prevented. The key is to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol and to maintain healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, eating a plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking.
No surprise, right? This advice has been consistent for many years.
But the best way to meet these standards is to change how you think about heart health, advises Dr. Ron Blankstein, a preventive cardiologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“Heart health is not about short-term fixes, but rather making long-term lifestyle changes,” he says. “You are not destined to have poor heart health, and there are simple steps you can take that may lower your risk if you approach it the right way.”
Here is a closer look at the main areas you should focus on.
Federal guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week. “Keep in mind that this is the minimum, and evidence suggests that doing more is better,” says Dr. Blankstein.
If this sounds daunting, focus on different types of activity that you enjoy. For instance, Dr. Blankstein suggests spreading your total activity time across two areas: purposeful exercise and daily movement.
Purposeful exercises are the traditional workouts like power walking, treadmill running, swimming, cycling, or rowing. For daily movement, focus on doing small bouts of activity throughout your day, such as these:
- Walk for five minutes every two hours.
- Do a set or two of push-ups either on the floor or against the kitchen counter.
- Perform up to 10 repetitions of stand-and-sit exercises, where you rise from a chair not using your arms and then sit down again.
Also, look for opportunities to do extra movements. For example, wash your car instead of using the drive-through car wash, park farther away from the grocery store, take the stairs, and do simple yard work like weeding, planting, and raking. “Every bit of everyday movement can count toward your overall exercise requirements,” says Dr. Blankstein.
Another way to increase daily movement is to wear an activity tracker, which counts the number of steps you take. About 10,000 steps per day is a standard target. “It’s an easy number to remember and something that many active people can reach during their day,” says Dr. Blankstein.
For heart protection, your diet should focus on plant foods, and you should minimize your intake of red meat, especially processed meat, according to Dr. Blankstein.
The plant-based diets that have been most studied for heart health are the Mediterranean diet, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, and the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet. Each one emphasizes foods associated with heart healthy benefits, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and healthy oils like olive oil.
“These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that lower blood pressure and LDL [bad] cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes, and help maintain a healthy weight, all of which can lower your risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Blankstein.
Adopting a plant-based diet isn’t easy for everyone, so you should ease into it. “Find a few plant-based recipes that you enjoy and add them to your regular meals,” says Dr. Blankstein.
Another approach is to switch out your current foods. For example, choose oatmeal instead of processed cereal, and replace red meat with legumes or nuts as your protein source. Also, pick a few days a week on which all your meals meet a heart-healthy and plant-based standard. “Gradually, you will feel the positive effects of the diet, which can motivate you to do more,” says Dr. Blankstein.
Guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis.
Studies have found that getting less than this amount is associated with heart disease risk factors like higher stress, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, in which a person stops breathing repeatedly during sleep, also can raise your risk. In fact, a report published online Feb. 12, 2018, by the Journal of Sleep Disorders & Therapy found that people with sleep apnea are more likely to also have heart failure, an irregular heartbeat, and diabetes.
|When is a heart scan helpful?Many men have a heart risk profile that falls into the intermediate range and are unsure about the need to take a statin. That is when a coronary artery calcium (CAC) heart scan can help. Fatty plaque can build up in your heart arteries. Often this plaque calcifies and appears on a CAC scan as small white specks. The amount of calcification is scored on a scale from zero to 400 and higher. A higher score indicates more plaque buildup, and implies a greater chance of a heart attack, which suggests that statin therapy may be beneficial.|
See your doctor to get your cholesterol levels and blood pressure checked to determine if you need additional treatments.
Cholesterol. The latest cholesterol guidelines suggest people should strive for an LDL cholesterol level of less than 70 milligrams per deciliter. The guidelines also recommend that people ages 40 to 75 have their risk of cardiovascular disease calculated by a doctor to determine if they should take a statin to help lower their cholesterol.
Blood pressure. The American Heart Association / American College of Cardiology recently changed the definition of high blood pressure to 130/80 mm Hg or higher.
“Because people cannot feel when their blood pressure is elevated, it is important to get it regularly checked,” says Dr. Blankstein. This can be done at your doctor’s office or your local pharmacy. If your pressure tends to run high and you need ongoing monitoring, consider investing in a home blood pressure machine.
Below are spiritual recipe for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” – James 1:2-3
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:6
“Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.”- Proverbs 16:3
“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Luke 12:24 – Luke 12:24
Contacts for prayer request and Bible study Recommended