What can making better choices do for health and longevity? Consider this provocative finding from the Nurses’ Health Study. Nonsmoking women with a healthy weight who exercised regularly, consumed a healthy diet, and had an alcoholic drink every other day were 83% less likely to have had a heart attack or to have died of heart disease over a 14-year period, compared with all the other women in the study. The results were almost identical in a similar study in men. In these two studies, more than two-thirds of all cardiovascular events could be chalked up to smoking, excess weight, poor diet, and drinking too much.
18 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April 2002 found that women who ate fish at least once a week were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who ate fish only once a month. Other studies show similar benefits for men. Another major study found regular fish consumption reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation — rapid, irregular heartbeat — a major cause of sudden death.
Don’t smoke or expose yourself to second-hand smoke
The evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoking and second-hand exposure to smoke increases the risks of heart disease, lung disease, peripheral vascular disease and stroke.
Stress contributes to cardiovascular disease and, if severe, can cause a heart attack or sudden death. There are plenty of options that help reduce stress, such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, striving for a good marriage, laughing, volunteering or attending religious services. Watching TV generally does not relieve, but can aggravate stress. Also, try to avoid situations and people who make you anxious or angry.
Drinking a small or moderate amount of alcohol probably reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (38% compared with teetotallers in one study). That is, 1-2 units per day – which is up to 14 units per week. Drinking more than 15 units per week does not reduce the risk, and drinking more than the recommended upper limits can be harmful. That is, men should drink no more than 21 units per week (and no more than four units in any one day). Women should drink no more than 14 units per week (and no more than three units in any one day). One unit is in about half a pint of normal-strength beer, or two thirds of a small glass of wine, or one small pub measure of spirits.
High blood pressure (hypertension)
You should have your blood pressure checked at least every 3-5 years. High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms, so you will not know if it is high unless you have it checked. However, over the years, high blood pressure may do some damage to the blood vessels (arteries) and put a strain on your heart.
Sometimes high blood pressure can be lowered by losing weight if you are overweight, regular physical activity and eating healthily as described above. Medication may be advised if your blood pressure remains high. See separate leaflet called High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) for more details.
Have a beer once a day
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that men who drank one beer a day for one month lowered their cholesterol levels, increased their blood levels of heart-healthy antioxidants, and reduced their levels of fibrinogen, a protein that contributes to blood clots. Of course, red wine might be even better. Choose either beer or wine — not both.
Lifetime smoking roughly doubles your risk of developing heart disease. The chemicals in tobacco get into the bloodstream from the lungs. They damage the blood vessels (arteries) and other parts of the body. Your risk of having a stroke, and developing other diseases such as lung cancer are also increased. Stopping smoking is often the single most effective thing that a person can do to reduce their health risk. The increased risk falls rapidly after stopping smoking (although it takes a few years before the excess risk reduces completely). If you smoke and are having difficulty in stopping, then see your practice nurse for help and advice.
Diabetes makes heart disease more likely. Many people who have diabetes don’t know it. Get tested and get treated.
Cook with ginger or turmeric twice a week. They have anti-inflammatory benefits, and inflammation is a major contributor to heart disease.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Following a healthy diet and being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight. Controlling your weight helps you control CHD risk factors.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. A loss of just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can lower your risk of CHD.
To lose weight, cut back your calorie intake and do more physical activity. Eat smaller portions and choose lower calorie foods. Don’t feel that you have to finish the entrees served at restaurants. Many restaurant portions are oversized and have too many calories for the average person.
For overweight children and teens, slowing the rate of weight gain is important. However, reduced-calorie diets aren’t advised, unless approved by a doctor.
Make fresh salad dressing with one tablespoon of flaxseed oil
It packs a whopping 7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, which, as we’ve just mentioned, are a great way to improve your overall heart health.
Sleep at time
A Harvard study of 70,000 women found that those who got less than seven hours of sleep had a slightly higher risk of heart disease. Researchers suspect lack of sleep increases stress hormones, raises blood pressure, and affects blood sugar levels. Keep your overall sleeping time to no more than nine hours, however. The same study found women sleeping nine or more hours had a slightly increased risk of heart disease.
Add flaxseed to your diet
Flaxseeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and can help to lower cholesterol levels. The seeds can be eaten whole or ground up, and can be sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal, cold cereal, and applesauce. They can be tossed in salads and added to smoothies.
It counts as physical activity, which, of course, is good for your heart. And that may be why University of Bristol researchers found that men who have sex at least twice a week are less likely to have a stroke or other cardiovascular problems than men who have it less often. As the researchers put it: “Middle-aged men should be heartened to know that frequent sexual intercourse is not likely to result in a substantial increase in risk of strokes, and that some protection from fatal coronary events may be an added bonus.” Women probably stand to benefit too.
Enliven your diet
Add fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fat, good protein (from beans, nuts, fish, and poultry), and herbs and spices. Subtract processed foods, salt, rapidly digested carbohydrates (from white bread, white rice, potatoes, and the like), red meat, and soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
Steer clear of all second-hand smoke
In addition to nicotine, it is full of carbon monoxide, which replaces some of the oxygen in the bloodstream when inhaled. When this happens, the heart is forced to work harder to supply oxygen to the body, which causes blood pressure to increase and elevates heart disease risk.
Choose foods that are low in unhealthy fats and cholesterol
Eliminate all trans-fat and saturated from your diet. Tran-fat is the most dangerous type of fat and is linked to a host of negative side effects. Both types of fat are linked to increases in blood pressure and an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Decrease the amount of foods you eat that contain these type of fats, such as red meats, full-fat dairy products, palm oils, fried foods, packaged foods, margarine, and processed baked goods.
Skip the soda and have orange juice instead
The reason has to do with inflammation, the body’s response to damage or injury. Chronic inflammation, linked to heart disease, is significantly affected by what you eat. For instance, researchers at the State University of New York found that drinking glucose-sweetened water triggered an inflammatory response in volunteers, but drinking the same calories in a glass of orange juice didn’t. They theorize that the anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin C and various flavonoids in juice may provide some protection. Choose 100 percent juice instead of drinks that are mostly sweetened, flavored water. Other studies on orange juice find it can increase blood levels of heart-protective folate almost 45 percent and reduce levels of heart-damaging homocysteine by 11 percent.