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Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organization. There are small, everyday things we can do to protect our hearts. Adding more movement, making better dietary choices, and more can have a big impact on our heart health.
Focus on a Heart-Healthy Diet.
- Eat more fruits & vegetables. Fruits and veggies are packed with bioavailable vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. They also have a healthy dose of dietary fiber which is necessary for all processes in our body, while remaining low calorie. Choose fresh and frozen fruits and veggies over canned as they can often have hidden ingredients such as syrups, sugars and more. Keeping fruits and veggies chopped up in the fridge can make them a more accessible snack and to throw into recipes.
- Pay attention to portion size. The quantity of the food you eat can be just as important as the quality when it comes to your health. Be mindful that you are not eating out of boredom, or overstuffing yourself. This leads to excessive calories. Be wary of restaurant portions as well, as they are often more fit for two. Challenge yourself to track serving sizes to see if you are eating the correct portions. For example, one serving of pasta is about 1/3 to 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
- Limit unhealthy fats. Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease.The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat to include in a heart-healthy diet: limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of total daily calories and completing eliminating trans fats. Check the food labels of cookies, cakes, frostings, crackers and chips. Not only are these foods low in nutritional value, some — even those labeled reduced fat — may contain trans fats. Trans fats are no longer allowed to be added to foods, but older products may still contain them. Trans fats may be listed as partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient label. Focus instead on healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Add whole grains to your diet. Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as whole-grain farro, quinoa or barley. Opt for whole-wheat flour, whole-grain bread, preferably 100% whole-wheat bread or 100% whole-grain bread, whole grains such as brown rice, barley and buckwheat (kasha), whole-grain pasta and oatmeal (steel-cut or regular).
- Low fat protein sources should be your best friend! Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of the best sources of protein. Choose lower fat options, such as skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties and skim milk rather than whole milk. Fish is a good alternative to high-fat meats. Certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You’ll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flaxseed and walnuts. Legumes — beans, peas and lentils — also are good, low-fat sources of protein and contain no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein occasionally — for example, a black bean burger for a hamburger — will reduce fat and cholesterol intake and increase fiber intake.
Being physically active is a major step toward good heart health. It’s one of your most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping your weight under control and warding off the artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack or stroke. It’s also true that different types of exercise are needed to provide complete fitness. “Aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important for heart health,” says Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D. “Although flexibility doesn’t contribute directly to heart health, it’s nevertheless important because it provides a good foundation for performing aerobic and strength exercises more effectively.” Aerobic exercise improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, Stewart says. In addition, it increases your overall aerobic fitness, as measured by a treadmill test, for example, and it helps your cardiac output (how well your heart pumps). Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and, if you already live with diabetes, helps you control your blood glucose. Ideally, you would perform this type of exercise 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Examples include brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, playing tennis and jumping rope.
No More Butts.
Cigarette smoking causes about 1 in every 5 deaths in the United States each year. It’s the main preventable cause of death and illness in the United States. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. The chemicals you inhale when you smoke cause damage to your heart and blood vessels that makes you more likely to develop atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries. Any amount of smoking, even occasional smoking, can cause this damage to the heart and blood vessels. Smoking poses an even greater risk for some people, especially for women who use birth control pills and people with diabetes. If you have other heart disease risk factors such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity, smoking raises your risk of heart disease even more. Smoking also increases your risk for peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD is when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, arms, and legs. People who have PAD have an increased risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Secondhand smoke is the smoke breathed out when someone smokes or the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or other tobacco product. It can damage the heart and blood vessels of people who don’t smoke in the same ways that smoking causes damage to people who do.
Limit or Eliminate Alcohol Use
Heavy drinking is linked to a number of poor health outcomes, including heart conditions. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Excessive drinking can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle. What’s more, alcohol can contribute to obesity and the long list of health problems that can go along with it. Alcohol is a source of excess calories and a cause of weight gain that can be harmful in the long term. Always drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as an average of one drink per day for women and one or two for men. A drink might be less than you think: 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.