According to American health records, there was no report of heart attacks per 100, 000 people in the USA back in 1890. However, by 1970 records of heart attacks had risen to 340 per 100,000 people. Today, people have a 50% chance of dying from a heart or artery disease. Obviously, something in our lifestyle, diet or environment changed to cause this sharp rise in heart problems.
What exactly is it that we are doing wrong that is bringing this plague of heart problems upon us?
Over 800,000 people in America died from heart attacks and other cardiac illnesses in 2013 alone. As if that is not tragic enough, most of those deaths (four out of five) were preventable. It’s sad really, but you can prevent heart problems easily by simply pursuing a heart healthy lifestyle—and it’s easier to pursue a heart healthy lifestyle than you think. Here are seven strategies to fit in your lifestyle today for a healthy heart and to dramatically cut your risk of death from heart related complications.
1. Eat a heart healthy diet.
The best way to eat a heart healthy diet is to follow national guidelines from organizations like the American Heart Association, says Preventive cardiologist Lori Mosca, MD, founder of Columbia University Medical Center’s Preventive Cardiology Program. “These [organizations] are established by experts who monitor research and are not focused on the latest fads and trends,” she says. Forget the competing headlines in the media with mixed messages about what constitutes “good” and “bad” foods for your heart. Just eat nationally recommended heart healthy foods that include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. Also, eat fish at least twice a week and limit your salt intake. A healthy diet can cut your risk of heart attack by 25%.
2. Stay calm and collected under stress.
One of the biggest risk factors for heart problems in our fast-paced modern life is chronic stress. Stress increases tension in the body and muscles, raises blood pressure and causes the heart to beat faster than normal. Dr. Malissa Wood in her book Smart at Heart: A Holistic 10-Step Approach to Preventing and Healing Heart Disease for Women, notes that chronic stress can ratchet up your risk for heart disease. You have to figure out what causes your stress and look for solutions. Consider taking a 10-second time-out before you react to a stressful situation. This could be all you need to cool down and avoid escalating the situation. Play relaxing music, unplug from the news and other stressors and just breathe and listen. Reducing stress is just as important as eating a heart healthy diet.
3. Take routine walks.
The importance of physical exercises for your overall health and wellbeing cannot be overemphasized. However, you don’t have to do high-intensity exercises for it to count. Simple physical activities like walking or riding your bicycle to work are forms of exercise that are just as helpful (if not more) for improving your cardiovascular health. Walk for 20-30 minutes per day, three times each week and you will strengthen your heart and improve its function. Routine walks will also help clear your mind when you’re feeling under pressure and help beat the stress.
4. Drink plenty of water.
Researchers say water dilutes the blood and makes it less likely to clot. As a result, you are less likely to suffer cardiovascular problems. Drink five, 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Men who drink five glasses of water every day are 54% less likely to have a fatal heart attack than men who drink two or fewer glasses. It really doesn’t come any easier than this for improving your heart’s health.
5. Consume less alcohol.
Alcohol tends to make people fat. Including three or four gin and tonics in your daily diet, for example, can add nearly two kilos to your weight in about four weeks without you even realizing it. Excess weight increases your risk of heart disease, especially if you carry excess weight around your upper and middle body. One study even showed that overweight people suffered heart attacks 8.2 years earlier than people with their weight within the normal range. It’s best to consume less alcohol or quit it altogether.
6. Quit smoking.
Another bad habit you should quit for a healthy heart is smoking. Smoking is bad for your health in more ways than you can count. Specifically, quitting smoking lowers your risk of heart attack by 50% after one year of cutting out the cigarettes. Moreover, your risk of heart attack returns to almost the same rate as a nonsmoker after just one year of quitting cigarettes. This is one more reason to stop smoking for good.
7. Get regular health screenings.
Screening is vital, especially for people with a history of coronary artery disease or other heart related problems. Your test results and numbers are what ultimately determine whether you need to take any specific action to safeguard your heart. Stick to medical prescriptions and take your doses (if any) exactly as directed by your doctor. Missing your meds for even one day can jeopardize your life and bring serious problems like high blood pressure. Checking with your doctor regularly and sticking to your meds as directed, however, will ensure you mitigate illnesses and build a healthy heart that will last a lifetime.