Heart disease prevention may not be on your mind right
now, but nurturing your heart, even in the smallest
ways, is vital to your health. Everything in your body is connected and your heart
is at the center of it all. Even if you have genetic factors linked to heart disease,
it is not a death sentence.
Addressing relevant lifestyle factors actually holds your best chance for lifelong
heart health. What does it mean to live a heart-healthy lifestyle? Regular exercise
and a healthy diet are key elements, of course, but there are other aspects to look
at. If you can, start by looking at your everyday habits — because these are the
factors you can control.
#1 way to prevent cardiovascular disease?
The link between smoking and heart disease is so well documented scientifically
it’s impossible to ignore. Smoking irritates the lungs, reduces oxygen uptake, incites
inflammation and exacerbates atherosclerosis.
You can’t have a healthy heart until you quit smoking.
- Smoke cigarettes?
- Eat junk food?
- Drink alcohol to excess?
- Have a lot of ongoing stress?
All of these habits can exponentially
increase your risk of cardiovascular disease but you can change that quickly
because you are the one at the steering wheel. You hold the power to point yourself
in a heart-healthy direction.
Food choices matter for heart disease prevention
If you’re confused about dietary fats and heart disease prevention, you’re not alone.
When you’re considering a heart-healthy diet, “low-fat” food products are definitely
not the answer. In fact, low-fat foods can accelerate the development of a heart
condition. Put simply, you have to eat some fat to have a healthy metabolism and
subsequently a healthy heart.
What kind of fat should you consume to help prevent heart disease? “Good” fats are
generally those that are unsaturated (both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils)
that come from plants, like avocados and olives, and some fish. Even though your
body can’t make them on its own, essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are vital to metabolize
cholesterol, control insulin and blood acids, and reduce inflammation. Get key omega-3
fats from oily fish, like salmon, sardines, herring and trout, and through
Note that you should always steer clear of trans fats — such as the partially hydrogenated
oils in processed foods like crackers and chips. You can still eat moderate amounts
of the saturated fats found in dairy products, meat, nuts and seeds.
Heart disease prevention — a simple plan
To reduce your risk of heart disease, consider each of the following and choose
one, two or three to get started:
- Eat well, eat right. Everything you eat affects your
insulin levels, metabolism and the synthesis of
cholesterol. Build a diet low in sodium, high in fruits, vegetables, lean
proteins and “good fats.” This can significantly reduce your cholesterol levels
— without the potential side effects of drugs. Choose a
top-quality vitamin–mineral supplement and take it every day.
Steady and consistent nutritional supplementation bridges nutritional gaps that
could lead to inflammation, elevated homocysteine levels, or inefficient metabolism.
- Exercise today, tomorrow and the next day. Your heart
is a muscle and the best way to build muscle strength is to exercise. Current guidelines
recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate daily activity, 5 days per week. Start
slowly if you need to, say 5–10 minutes a day, and work up to more. Mindfulness
exercise practices such as yoga and t’ai chi are wonderful because they
simultaneously reduce stress and are good for heart health.
- Reduce stress and emotional conflict. Take an inventory
of the sources of stress in your life, and then list what you can do about them.
Pay particular attention to stress that is linked to negative patterns in your life.
There are lots of small things you can do to reduce stress. If you need help and
can afford it, invest in therapy, which (with the right therapist) can help you
resolve the root of your worst stress.
- Increase your joy every chance you get. When you
open your heart and maximize every opportunity for joy, you bring balance and love
into your emotional life. Look into massage, restorative yoga, bodywork and other
alternative treatments. (Read our listing
of alternative and complementary therapies.) Find something you love, and
then do it. Your heart is counting on you, so start being your own best friend.
- If your heart needs attention, see your practitioner.
If blood tests reveal high levels of LDL, or you have a strong family history or
other issues such as diabetes you may want to consider medication. Statin drugs,
like Lipitor, are still in their relative infancy, but they may be right for you.
Recent findings are convincing that these drugs effectively reduce cholesterol and
inflammation. However, if they’re prescribed for you, ask about taking them at the
lowest possible effective dosage, and in combination with selenium,
co-Q10, L-carnitine, and ribose supplements to reduce side effects. You
should also discuss taking a daily aspirin for its proven protective properties
against cardiovascular disease.
Get a true picture of your heart health
Another recent gift of modern science worth mentioning is the 64-slice CT scan of
the heart. If you have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease or your
risk factors for coronary heart disease
are high, this non-invasive, virtually pain-free imaging technique can deliver full
3-D images of the heart and other organs in a matter of moments, allowing easy diagnosis
and treatment planning. That might range from prevention to immediate surgery. The
64-slice CT scan is not available in all areas and most insurance policies do not
cover it, but its cost can often be justified by the knowledge and options it offers.
Ask your doctor about it.
At Women's Health Network, we would love to see the rates of heart disease in women
decline. We know that the prospect of heart disease can be frightening, but as always,
we believe information is power that will help you take control of your heart health.
There is so much we know about
this disease so let’s take advantage of it. We wish you health and joy with
all our hearts.