Heart disease tends to be associated with old age, but the truth is that anyone can have heart disease, regardless of their age. Some people are born with heart problems, while some develop heart problems subsequently, depending on several factors.
The good news is, a healthy heart can be nurtured with the right lifestyle. And written below are a few habits and adjustments that will help you stay healthy.
As cliché as it sounds, we are what we eat. The food you eat can either increase or decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Also, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fibre-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat. Select lower fat dairy products and skinless poultry. Reduce sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat. If you choose to eat meat, try to eat more white than red meat.
Know your family history
Ask your parents about their medical history and that of their parents and siblings. Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk, and more so if the relative is a parent or a sibling. This is a non-modifiable factor.
It means that if you have a family member with a history of heart disease, you need to focus on risk factors you can control by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking and eating healthier.
Also, keep your doctor informed about any heart problems you learn about in your family.
Be physically active
It’s a lot easier to be active and stay active if you start at a young age. This doesn’t mean that you need to start hitting the gym every day and lifting heavy weights. You can slowly work up to at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g. jogging, running) or a combination of both every week. You can also try taking the stairs instead of the elevator and cycling instead of driving.
Find a doctor and have regular checkups
You don’t have to wait till you show symptoms to see a doctor. Healthy people need doctors, too. Establishing a relationship with a physician means you can start heart-health screenings now. Talk to your doctor about your diet, lifestyle and check your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood sugar and body mass index.
You may also need your blood sugar checked if you are pregnant, overweight or have diabetes. Knowing where your numbers stand early makes it easier to spot a possible change in the future.
Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is the single biggest modifiable risk factor, not just for heart diseases but for many other chronic illnesses including cancer. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack. If you picked up smoking already, it’s time to quit smoking. Even exposure to secondhand smoke poses a serious health hazard. Nonsmokers are up to 30 % more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure at home or work.
Carbon monoxide in cigarettes replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.
Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than are those who don’t smoke or take birth control pills because both can increase the risk of blood clots.
When it comes to prevention of heart disease, the safest bet is not to smoke at all. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smokeless tobacco, low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke also can be risky. Even so-called social smoking — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — can be dangerous and increase the risk of heart disease.
The good news is that your risk of heart disease begins to lower soon after quitting. Your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. And then, your risk of coronary heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you will start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
Manage your stress
This may be easier said than done, especially when you live and work in a big city and spend lots of time in traffic. However, it is important because long-term stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls. Learning stress management techniques not only benefits your body but also your quality of life. Try and find time each day to do something you enjoy.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your belly — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Implementing these lifestyle changes will go a long way to improve your overall health and keep your heart in tip-top shape.