Did you know that heart disease is by far the leading cause of death in the United States, even outranking cancer? In 2017 alone over 600,000 people died due to heart disease. That is 1,736 Americans a day, or an average of 1 death every 38 seconds.
While the first paragraph paints a pretty bleak picture of heart disease, it’s not actually as black and white as the numbers make it appear. Why is that? Because roughly 80% of ALL heart disease is entirely preventable with a proactive approach to heart health and proper education. In the other 20% of cases, heart disease is caused by genetics or other uncontrollable factors, but even those with genetic predispositions towards heart disease can minimize, and sometimes prevent issues related to their hearts.
What Causes Heart Disease?
Heart disease can include problems like heart failure, heart arrhythmia, and heart attack, and is defined by the heart beating ineffectively, causing poor circulation. High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, and actually causes most cases. Essentially, the higher your blood pressure is, the harder your heart has to work to effectively pump blood throughout your body. Sustained high blood pressure puts your heart through such significant stress that it often begins presenting symptoms that are irreversible if ignored.
Another major factor in developing in heart disease is atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup. Plaque buildup causes your artery walls to thicken and stiffen, which actively inhibits blood flow to your organs and tissues. Like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis is avoidable because it is typically caused by controllable factors like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, being overweight, or smoking.
A portion of the population with heart disease and issues related to heart disease receive it through unavoidable genetic issues. However, even those with genetic predispositions towards heart disease can minimize, and sometimes prevent issues related to their hearts. It is also important to note, that the number of uncontrollable cases is much smaller than the number of heart disease cases that are entirely avoidable due to diet and lifestyle choices.
So how can you minimize or prevent your chances for developing heart disease by lowering blood pressure and plaque buildup? Follow these heart health tips:
Do More Physical Activity
Physical activity is a major focus of American Heart Month every year, and for good reason. Sedentary lifestyles mixed with dietary issues have led to a steadily growing global weight issue. While many people can lead happy and healthy lives no matter what their weight, studies have shown that being overweight drastically increases your chances of suffering from heart disease.
Exercise helps strengthen your heart against the every day wear and tear involved in serving as the center of your entire circulatory system. The more efficiently it can pump blood, the less likely it is that your heart will develop chronic issues. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to improve your heart health either, just make conscious decisions to be physically active in your everyday life.
Here are some tips for adding more physical activity into your everyday life:
- Long dog walks (this is great for your pup’s health as well!)
- Move around the house while you’re on the phone.
- Exercise in place during at least one episode of your favorite show at night.
- Park further away from the store and walk the longer distance.
- Take the stairs; skip the elevator.
Eat Heart Healthy
In a previous blog post on Preventing High Blood Pressure we mentioned the importance of a heart healthy diet for avoiding serious diseases, including heart disease. In that article diet and exercise are described as the closest you can come to a “magic solution” in relation to heart health. It is incredibly rare for anyone that is active and enjoys a healthy diet to experience heart related issues.
What does eating heart healthy really mean? Number one: reduce sodium intake. Sodium accounts for the majority of issues related to high blood pressure. An average American eats 3,400 mg of sodium every single day, that’s 1,100 mg higher than the FDA suggested daily average - which many say is too high already. One meal at a fast food restaurant is more than enough to place you well over your daily value of sodium.
Another important item to cut out is sugar. We know, sugar is the painful one to let go, everyone loves sugar; and it seems like nearly everything has sugar and sodium in it nowadays. The USDA found that the average American eats nearly half a pound of sugar a day on average, that’s 150 pounds of sugar every year. Wow. But it’s easier to believe when you consider you can’t even eat something like a hamburger without taking in several grams of sugar. Sugar hides in most processed foods, and increases blood pressure, and has even been found to cause the liver to dump more harmful fats into the blood stream.
The USDA also found that Americans eat nearly 75 pounds of added fats and oils every year, and the ratio of healthy vs unhealthy fats consumed has gone in the wrong direction in the past several years, which can contribute to inflammation. Good fats are important to our health and should be consumed regularly - these fats are known as omega-3 fats and can be found in fresh fish and nuts and olive oils. Bad fats are called omega-6 fats and can be found in processed oils that coat many processed foods such as french fries, chips, burgers, etc. Diets that are disproportionately high in omega-6 fats cause plaque buildup and inflammation in major arteries, and leads to weight gain which can cause more problems related to heart health.
The guide below is a quick and easy reference point for a heart healthy diet.
- Fresh fruits (NOT fruit juice)
- Fresh veggies
- Fish (omega-3 supplements are also good)
- Nuts and Beans
- Natural Oils (Olive, Coconut, Sesame) NOT vegetable oil or peanut oil
Do Not Eat (In Excess)
- Saturated Fats
- Vegetable Oil and/or Peanut oil
- Fatty Red Meats
- Junk food i.e. chips, french fries, anything you can buy at the gas station convenience store
The most important message you should take away from American Heart Month is that you can take control of your heart health, and you can start today! You don’t have to start running marathons and shift your diet overnight, but do swap out a Big Mac for homemade fish tacos, and start taking the stairs and parking farther away at work, and you’re well on your way to a healthier heart.
If you or your loved one could use help preparing a heart healthy diet and getting active, consider bringing a qualified care provider into your home. American In-Home Care always refers qualified, screened, care providers that are compassionate and ready to help with services like meal preparation, diet monitoring, recording vital health data, and mobility assistance. Contact us at 1-844-505-0004 to schedule your free in-home consultation to discuss which care options are right for you and your family.