Preventing Heart Disease

There is truth to the old adage, “prevention is the best medicine.” You can avoid sunburn by putting on sunscreen. You can thwart the spread of the flu by getting a flu shot. And you can prevent heart disease by committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle and taking steps to reduce modifiable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Don’t smoke. Using tobacco products or smoking is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease. When you put out that cigarette or throw away the smokeless tobacco, within five to ten years your risk for coronary artery disease will decline to a level similar to that of people who never smoked. This holds true regardless of how long you have been a smoker.

Get up and go. There is almost no end to the benefits of exercise. Regular physical activity helps your heart work more efficiently, reduces blood pressure, raises good (HDL) cholesterol, lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol, decreases the tendency of blood to form clots, helps lessen stress, helps the body use insulin and contributes to weight control. Plus, people who have been sedentary can see a reduction of 35 to 55 percent in their heart attack risk after they start exercising regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.

Eat heart-friendly foods. Foods that are good for you, such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, are some of the best weapons in the fight against cardiovascular disease. Opt for high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Put deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarines and crackers back on the table. And leave the salt shaker alone. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure.

Find your healthy weight. Most weight gain as you get older is fat rather than muscle. Being obese increases your risk for high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and insulin resistance. If you need to lose weight, talk with your doctor about healthy ways to shed excess pounds. Avoid fad diets and supplements. In general, waist measurements of greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women are considered indicators for being overweight.

Check your numbers. Blood pressure higher than the optimal 120/80 millimeters of mercury and total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL can damage your heart and blood vessels. Blood pressure should be checked about every two years; cholesterol at least once every five years. If you have diabetes, monitor blood sugar levels closely. Diabetes can double or quadruple your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is a gradual, lifelong process that you cannot see or feel. Some risk factors, such as age, race and family history, are beyond our control. But these lifestyle changes, in addition to limiting alcohol, managing diabetes, and reducing stress, can help prevent heart disease so you can enjoy a healthier life in the years to come. For more information about preventing a heart attack, talk with your doctor or call Hilton Head Heart for a free referral to a cardiologist near you.