Cardiovascular diseases come in many forms: high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, stroke, and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). While it’s often said that men have a higher risk of heart attack than women, things seems to shift when menopause comes into play. According to Penn Medicine blog, women going through menopause are at high risk for heart disease; decreasing estrogen has many negative impacts upon the cardiovascular system including a greater likelihood of blood clots, and a decrease in HDL (“good cholesterol”) and an increase in LDL (“bad cholesterol”). And for those over 65, heart disease is a serious issue, as age affects many functions of the heart and cardiovascular system.
Monitoring changes in your body and keeping an open discussion with your family doctor about your overall health—including diet, exercise, lifestyle, stress, and emotional well-being—is the best way to stay engaged in your health care, and prevent, identify, and reduce heart disease-related risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other health factors. Here are 7 simple things you can do in the meantime to improve your heart health (and impress your doctor, and yourself).
Daily physical activity (even just 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 times a week) greatly improves your overall health, and lowers your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. While cardiovascular exercise like walking, swimming, or aerobics are best for the cardiovascular system, all exercise helps to maintain the body’s well-being, and there are lots of gentle approaches to choose from.
Reduce your blood sugar
Get your blood sugar levels calculated, and aim to do a bit better. Most of the food that we consume is translated into glucose (blood sugar) and used to fuel our bodies. If your blood sugar level (when fasting) is under 100, your are in the healthy range for blood sugar levels. If not, you may be diabetic or pre-diabetic. While diabetes is treatable and manageable, even with one’s glucose levels under control, the risk of heart disease and stroke are greatly increased. Reduce your consumption of simple sugars, and consider with a naturopath or specialist how your overall diet might be affecting your blood sugar levels.
Quit smoking (if you haven’t already)
Smoking damages your circulatory system, increases the risk of coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm, and blood clots. Smoking can also reduce your good cholesterol and your lung capacity, making physical activity more difficult to do. If you haven’t quit smoking already, or you’ve switched to a smoking alternative, discuss the effects of nicotine and tobacco on your heart health with a medical professional, as well as your options for quitting.
Monitor and manage your blood pressure
High blood pressure is a serious risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range can reduce the strain on your kidneys, arteries, and heart, which keeps your body functioning healthy. High blood pressure, or hypertension means that the blood running through your body flows with too much force, causing microscopic tears in your arteries. Reduce your sodium, exercise, watch your weight, manage your stress, and limit your alcohol consumption and avoid tobacco smoke. Together, these tiny efforts can potentially reduce your blood pressure.
Count your cholesterol
Our bodies need cholesterol, but when we have too much LDL (“bad cholesterol”), plaque can form in your veins and arteries, and these blockages lead to heart disease and stroke. Keeping an eye on our bad and good cholesterol levels is a great practice to keep up with. To prevent and maintain healthy levels of both, include a variety of whole and multi grains, fatty fishes, antioxidant rich foods (fruits and vegetables), foods high in omega 3 fatty acids (avocado, flax seeds, olive oil), and foods rich in plant sterols, such as walnuts and almonds.
Watch your fat consumption
While healthy fats like avocado and nuts are good for the heart, an excess of unhealthy fats can lead to major problems with heart disease, and also make managing your weight (a heart-disease associated risk) difficult. Avoid (or consume in moderation) animal products high in saturated fats (beef, lamb, cream, cheese, butter, egg yolks), fried foods, high-fat processed meats (hot dogs or sausages), simple sugars found in soft-drinks, candy, baked goods, or other sweets, saturated oils, such as coconut and palm oil, and shortening, including margarine and lard.
Too much fat on the body—especially around the midsection/waist – puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Losing as little as five to ten pounds can make a difference in managing your risk for heart disease. Consult with your doctor about the best approach to diet and exercise for you, and remember that sustaining healthy habits (eating right and exercising) are much more effective at long-term health maintenance, rather than choosing to follow a fad diet.
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