February is Healthy Heart month and All Care is pleased to publish a blog series about heart disease, its effects, warning signs, and how to incorporate healthy habits to increase the health of your heart.
Part III: Easy Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease & Stroke
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any type of disorder that affects the heart. Heart disease means the same as cardiac disease but not cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to disorders of the blood vessels and heart, while heart disease refers to just the heart.
Between 1950 and 2000, the death rate from stoke dropped nearly 80% while the death rate from heart disease dropped almost 70%; while Americans are dying of stroke and heart disease much less often, they are still being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease just as much as ever. Interestingly enough, some risk factors such as obesity and diabetes are even more prevalent today than they were 50 years ago!
What kind of sense does that make? Well, lots! Through research, awareness, education, and other advancements in the healthcare industry, people are living longer and healthier lives while dealing with chronic illness and disease. These advances in technology and pharmacology are wonderful for extending the quantity of life, but does your idea of quality of life involve being brought back from death’s door by a bypass surgery? Or include needing a specialized decoder pin to manage your medication? Probably not! Instead of benefitting from the vast medical strides the healthcare industry has made in recent years after a cardiac crisis, why not be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke? There are some common sense steps people take to incorporate a healthier lifestyle but there are some other steps you can take to help strengthen your heart and prevent heart disease or stroke!
20 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease & Stroke
- Indulge in Some Dark Chocolate- Several studies have shown that dark chocolate can actually be good for your heart! Flavonoids, a chemical found in dark chocolate, help arteries stay flexible while dark chocolate’s other properties have shown to seemingly make arteries less likely to clot and prevent bad cholesterol from oxidizing (making it less likely to form plaque). Have a piece of dark chocolate a few times a week to help promote artery health!
- Ride a Bike (You never forget how!)- Riding a bicycle for 20 minutes a day can vastly reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Try a stationary bike at home or at the gym if riding a bike outside is too challenging.
- Have a Drink!- You can handle that, right? Studies have shown that individuals who have one beer a day for at least a month can lower their cholesterol levels, reduce their risk of blood clots, and increase their levels of heart healthy antioxidants. Beer or red wine is a good choice, but choose one or the other, not both.
- Get to Bed an Hour Earlier than Normal- Did you know a Harvard study of 70,000 women found that women who got less than seven hours of sleep had a higher risk of heart disease? Not only does a lack of sleep cause an increase in the stress hormone, it also raises blood pressure and can affect your blood sugar levels which can throw all kinds of systems off. Try to keep your sleep consistent and to no more than nine hours, as much of a risk as lack of sleep can be to your heart, sleeping regularly over nine hours a night also increases your risk of heart disease
- Pick a Day for Fish- Try to eat fish at least once a week. Grilled, sautéed, baked, or roast, find something you like and try to make it a weekly habit. Women who eat fish once a week are 1/3 less likely to suffer from heart attack or other heart disease than women who eat it once a month. Regular fish consumption can reduce the risk of a rapid or irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, which is a major cause of sudden death.
- B, the Vitamin- A Swiss study found that individuals who took a B vitamin complex every morning (folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12) had a 40% lower levels of homocysteine (a substance linked to increased heart disease, heart attack, and stroke) than those in the control group who didn’t, the individuals taking the B complex vitamins also had wider open blood vessels than the control group. Try placing the bottle of vitamins next to your toothbrush or coffee pot as a reminder to take it first thing the morning.
- High Fiber Mornings- Harvard University scientists found that women who ate 23 grams of fiber a day were 23% less likely to suffer heart attacks than those who only consumed 11 grams a day. In men, a high fiber diet can cut the chances of heart attack by up to 36%. High fiber diets start in the morning, try a high fiber cereal at least 4 times a week to get on track.
- The Power of Flaxseed- Try sprinkling some flaxseed on your cereal or yogurt every morning, this will add about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids into your diets. Multiple studies have found that healthy fats help prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of dying suddenly from abnormalities in heart rhythm. You can also try making salad dressing and adding one tablespoon of flaxseed oil. This will add 7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids which will help to improve your general health.
- Don’t Forget Tea Time! Studies have found that by having at least two cups of tea a day, black or green-it doesn’t matter, your risk of heart attack decreases. 17 different studies reflected that having three or more cups of tea a day could reduce your risk of heart attack by 11%. Make time for tea!
- Get Your Legumes! Tulane University found that by incorporating beans or peas into 4 meals every week the risk of heart disease is slashed by 22% when compared to those who consumed fewer legumes.
- Daily Baby Aspirin- University of North Carolina researchers found that the tiny pill can reduce the risk of heart disease by nearly one-third in people who had never suffered a heart attack or stroke but were high risk (because they smoked, were overweight, had high blood pressure, etc.). Be sure to check with your doctor before you being to be sure there is no reason you shouldn’t take a daily baby aspirin.
- Get Your Vitamin C! Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, but so are a bowl of strawberries, brussels sprouts, broccoli, or chopped red bell pepper. Studies have suggested that diets rich in vitamin C may reduce the risk of stroke, especially for smokers.
- Skip Soda, Go for 100% Juice! Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease and is significantly affected by what you eat. Scientists found, for example, that when individuals drank glucose-sweetened water their bodies had an inflammatory response. Individuals who drank the same calories in a glass of orange juice, however, didn’t experience an inflammatory episode. Researchers at the State University of New York theorize that anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin C and various flavonoids (remember them from the dark chocolate?) in juice provide protection. While you should always choose a juice that is 100% natural, orange juice seems to be the best option as studies have also found that it can increase blood levels of heart-protective folate almost 45% and reduce levels of heart damaging homocysteine by 11%.
- Go to the Bathroom When You Feel the Urge- Researchers in Taiwan have found a full bladder causes your heart to beat faster and puts added stress on coronary arteries, making them contract, which could lead to heart attack for those already at-risk. When you feel the urge to go-Go!
- Roll the Windows Up & Turn the AC On- This will reduce your exposure to airborne pollutants, which a Harvard study found reduces “heart rate variability,” meaning the ability of your heart rate to respond to different activity and stress. Reduced heart rate variability, or HRV, has been associated with increased deaths among heart attack survivors as well as the population as a whole.
- Use Your Vacation Time- A study at the University of Pittsburg found that men who took regular vacations cut their risk of death from heart attack by one third. And remember, if you are on a vacation that is meant to reduce your risk of heart disease, that doesn’t mean you can bring your laptop, cell phone, or paperwork. That means you are just working a regular day in a new environment; shut off, unplug, relax, and let your body recharge!
- Call a Friend! Studies have found that have a very close relationship with another person (friend, lover, sibling, or other relative) could cut the risk of a heart attack by half in someone who has already suffered a heart attack. So pick up the phone, schedule a dinner, give a hug, send a letter-connect with another person and it will do you and your heart a world of good!
- Don’t Forget the Basics! Major studies have found that almost everyone who has died of heart disease, including from heart attacks, had at least one or more of the ‘basic’ conventional risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, or smoking. You can’t forget that there are underlying risk factors that need to be addressed and controlled.
- Rescue a Pet- The healing power of an animal is well documented in the healthcare industry and pet therapy has become a staple in many hospitals and nursing or assisted living facilities. Not only will adopting a dog force you to be more active (a dog must be walked, after all!), the companionship and unconditional love an animal provides has shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. So head to your local shelter and see if you can’t find your next best friend, who will also have the added bonus of increasing your heart health!
- Have Sex! ’s physical activity so that is always good for your heart! Plus, universities in England have found through research studies that men who have sex at least twice a week are less likely to have a stroke or other cardiovascular complications than men who have sex less often. Researchers felt it important that middle aged men know that frequent sex will not result in substantial increase risk of stroke that it will, in fact, most likely provide added protection from fatal coronary events. If it’s this beneficial for men, we can only imagine how women will benefit as well! (Remember, good sex is always safe sex!)8888While some risk factors won’t be eliminated by taking some of this advice (hereditary or past medical history), incorporating these small changes into your lifestyle you will be making an investment in your health, your future, and your family. While extending the length of your life is always an added bonus, increasing the quality of your life is even better! In continuation with our February Heart Health Blog Series, our next installment discuss some of the signs and symptoms of heart attack and heart failure in yourself or someone else as well as what to do in case of an emergency.