Heart-related diseases or cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are still the number one killer of men and women in the world. According to recent estimates, more than 18 million people lose their lives due to CVDs each year. In Australia, 1 in 5 adults (22%) of the population are diagnosed with CVD every year. It is expected that by 2030 more than 23 million people living in different parts of the world will die from cardiovascular diseases.
The good news is that most of these heart diseases or CVDs can be prevented easily by making healthy lifestyle choices. Most of these choices revolve around minimising or completely eliminating the risk factors that increase your chance of developing CVD (heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and arrhythmia). Controlling the risk factors can significantly reduce your chances of experiencing any heart-related complications.
To understand how you can improve health of your heart, it is important to first have a good understanding of the risks factors that increase your chance of developing cardiovascular disease.
Risk Factors Associated with CVDs
There is no single thing that causes cardiovascular diseases; in fact, there are “risk factors” that increase your chances of developing CVDs. Some of the risk factors are:
- having high blood pressure
- having a high cholesterol level
- having insomnia (lack of sleep)
- having diabetes
- having depression
- being overweight
- being physically inactive
- heavy alcohol use
How to Improve Your Heart Health
Here are a few practical yet simple steps you can take at your end that will surely get you on the road to a healthier heart and better health in general.
Say Goodbye to Smoking
Smoking is one of the major risk factors of cardiovascular diseases. The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates the body to produce a hormone called “adrenaline” which makes the heart beat faster and raises the blood pressure. Smoking also reduces the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the heart, this damages the artery walls. Other chemicals present in cigarettes damage the lining of the arteries and make the blood more likely to clot. All of these things increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, angina, and peripheral arterial disease.
Saying goodbye to smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your heart health.
Be Physically Active
Regular physical activity is good not only for your heart but also for your general wellbeing. People who are physically active have healthier bodies and minds than those who are not physically active. Regular physical activity helps to:
- build healthy muscles, bones, and joints
- improves cholesterol levels
- reduces the risk of diabetes
- improves mood and helps you sleep better
- decreases the risk of heart diseases
- lowers blood pressure
- improve body composition (body-mass-index ratio)
Moderate intensity rhythmic (aerobic) exercises such as cycling, brisk walking, and swimming are considered to be ideal for a healthy heart. Make physical activity part of your daily routine and aim to do at least 150 minutes of different aerobic exercises in a week to keep your heart in good shape.
Achieve & Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
If you are obese or overweight, you are at a higher risk of facing serious health problems like heart diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, diabetes, asthma or other breathing problems. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight goes a long way in keeping your heart healthy.
You need to first examine your daily eating habit and make sure you are not eating more calories than your body is able to burn, these extra calories actually result in weight gain. By eating the right portion sizes and cutting down on sugar and fats, you can dramatically reduce your waist size. Increasing your physical activity can help you burn the extra calories, and keep your body weight in check.
Eat Heart-Healthy Diet
Good nutrition plays a big role in keeping your heart healthy. By making smart food choices, you can significantly reduce your risk of CVDs. A heart-healthy diet helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol level, and your waistline. According to experts, here is what constitutes a heart-healthy diet:
- more portions of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and plain unsalted nuts
- un-refined whole grains and cereals such as oatmeal, brown rice, pasta, bread, and noodles
- moderate amounts of lean unprocessed meats, reduced dairy products, and skinless chicken
- oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, herring and lake trout (at least twice a week)
- low fat or fat-free milk and dairy products
- plant-based oils, such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil
- limited or no use of salt
The exact composition of the heart-healthy diet will ultimately depend on individual characteristics such as your age, gender, physical and mental health, lifestyle, the degree of physical activity, availability of food items in your area, and dietary customs.
Keep your Stress Levels under Control
There is a strong link between stress and heart health. Studies have shown that people who are under constant stress or do not have quality social support are at a greater risk of developing CVDs. Constant stress can also lead to the adoption of unhealthy habits such as smoking, use of drugs, and excessive use of alcohol, all of which increase the risk of heart diseases.
It is, therefore, very important to learn how to relax and effectively deal with stress. Here are some simple tips you can follow to tackle day-to-day stress:
- identify situations/activities that make you feel stressed and try to avoid them, if possible
- be realistic about your expectations/goals and do not try to push things to the limit to satisfy your end goals
- make sure to keep yourself active by engaging yourself in activities that you like
- try relaxation techniques or join meditation/yoga classes
- be socially active and share your feelings with your loved ones
It is never too late to make changes in your life and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Whatever your age, race, sex or medical condition, you can always make these adjustments in your life to protect your heart and your overall health.