Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death in America, accounting for 34 percent of deaths, many suddenly and almost all of them premature. If you have diabetes, your risk rises even higher—dramatically. You have an increased risk of heart disease if you are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 55. You also are at greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.
Yet, in spite of all the negative statistics about heart disease, the good news is that these numbers can be reversed. By making a concerted effort to monitor your blood pressure, to watch your weight, to stop smoking and to get regular exercise, along with a few more simple steps, you can be well on your way to having a healthy heart and a decreased risk of serious problems.
10 important ways you can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke
There are many things you can do reduce your chances of developing heart disease. At Westchester Health, here are our top 10:
Take responsibility for your health
At Westchester Health, we tell all our patients that the best prevention against heart disease and stroke is to understand the risks, warning signs and treatment options. The first step in preventing heart disease is to take responsibility for your health.
Know your risks
The biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease is age. The older you are, the greater your risk. The second biggest risk factor is your genetic make-up. If your parents, grandparents or other close relatives experienced or died of heart disease, diabetes or stroke, your risk is much greater.
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. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Maintain a healthy blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is commonly known as “the silent killer” because it typically has no symptoms in most individuals. High blood pressure does damage to your heart by causing wear and tear of the delicate inner lining of your blood vessels. The higher your blood pressure (BP), the greater your risk of heart disease. Heredity and increasing age put you at greater risk. If you can, get an in-home blood pressure measuring device, which will more accurately determine your true blood pressure at rest than having it taken in a physician’s office.
Monitor your cholesterol (blood lipids)
Abnormal or high blood lipids (fats) are a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. Your blood lipids include the LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides. The lower your LDL and the higher your HDL, the better your prognosis. The amount of cholesterol in your blood is determined mainly by three factors: the amount produced by the liver, the amount absorbed from the intestinal tract and your age (your cholesterol increases with age). If you are at risk, medication and/or a change in diet are almost always necessary to lower the LDL or to raise your HDL.
Limit your calories
The obesity rate in Americans is alarming, contributing to a widely-considered epidemic of diabetes, which is a cardiovascular disease. If you have diabetes, your risk is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. Eating less and exercising more are the two most effective, tried-and-true solutions.
Make exercise a daily habit
Lack of exercise is greatly contributing to the prevalence of obesity in America, but is something that can be easily turned around. Exercise does more than burn calories—it also activates genes that are beneficial to your health in other ways. Plus, exercise is one of the best treatments for depression and anxiety. However, exercise alone cannot control or reduce a person’s weight; they must also modify their diet.
Choose your medications wisely
Although some vitamins have been shown to possibly help some health conditions, to date none have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, with some rare exceptions, such as fish oils and niacin (vitamin B). It is also important to note that high doses of some vitamins may interfere or counteract the beneficial effects of some prescription drugs.
Stress contributes to cardiovascular disease and, if severe enough, can cause a heart attack or sudden death. There are many ways to reduce stress, such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, laughing, volunteering, gardening, having a pet, playing an instrument, mentoring others and cultivating friends. Find what relieves your stress and commit to doing this activity at least once a day if possible.
Stay informed: Science changes constantly
In medicine, new techniques and new insights are developing constantly. Keep yourself current with the latest advancements by regularly consulting accredited publications, journals and websites.
Do you think you might be at risk of heart disease? Come see us.
If you’re worried about your risk for heart disease, or want guidance about making changes in your lifestyle in order to prevent heart disease, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our specialists. We will perform tests and a physical examination to determine if you are in fact a likely candidate for a heart attack or stroke. If so, we will work closely with you to determine the best treatment plan to reverse the possibility of this serious health condition. We also may prescribe medication, if appropriate.