February marks American Heart Month which aims to raise awareness about heart disease and how it can be prevented. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in America and it costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
Heart disease isn’t just one diagnosis. Instead, it describes a variety of heart conditions that range in severity, including genetic heart defects, arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, and more.
Smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common risk factors that can lead to heart disease. Luckily, you’re not destined to struggle with heart disease. There’s actually a lot you can do to lower your risk factors and improve your overall health.
The good news is improving and maintaining your heart health doesn’t have to be unpleasant or taxing. It also doesn’t need to happen overnight (and it won’t). Making changes to your lifestyle, even small ones like substituting salt for spices, will put you on track to leading a happier, healthier life.
Here are a few:
1. Exercise as regularly as you can
Not many people love exercising but there’s no denying the physical and mental health benefits that come with it. Exercising relieves stress, enhances memory, boosts mood, and improves sleep. It’s vital to weight loss and maintenance, plus it increases endurance, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, running, hiking, cycling, and kickboxing, are particularly good for battling heart disease because they work the heart and lungs for long periods.
2. Quit smoking (or at least cut back)
It’s certainly easier said than done but if you’re a smoker, even just cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke each week can make a difference in your health. If you pursue quitting altogether, you’ll see major changes - both immediately and over time. For example, just a single day after quitting smoking, your risk of experiencing a heart attack and developing heart disease start to decrease. Your oxygen levels will also rise which will make it easier for you to do that exercise thing we talked about. Plus, 15 years after quitting, your chances of developing heart disease will be the same as those of a non-smoker.
3. Do your best to eat healthy
There’s no use in saying junk food isn’t tasty because it totally is. And once in a while, it’s fine to have. However, the foods we eat have a large impact on our health. Our eating habits can help us improve or maintain good health or they can put us at risk for future medical problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Eating healthy encompasses much more than just eating less junk. It also means making smart drink choices, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, choosing foods that are high in fiber, and controlling your portions. Doing this can help you combat various risk factors that could put you at risk for heart disease, such as diabetes, obesity, and an unhealthy diet.
4. Treat the cause of any underlying health problems
Finding the root cause of a health problem isn’t always easy or possible. A lot of the time, it’s multifaceted and complex which can make it more difficult to diagnose. That said, it’s important to work with your doctor to try to address the reasons behind additional medical issues you may have that can increase your risk of heart disease. If you know what’s causing your high blood pressure, you may be able to take medication and make lifestyle changes to help treat it. Your yearly check up is a great time to bring up your concerns with your doctor. Plus, you’ll get 25 Wellbeing Rewards Points for going.
As with a lot of modern day health issues, many forms of heart disease can be treated but prevention is still the best course of action whenever possible.