Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans, accounting for one in every four deaths. Let’s take time to talk about five simple things you can do every day to reduce your risk of heart disease.
1. Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day.
The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. Exercise helps prevent heart disease because your heart is a muscle, and when you engage in activity that increases your heart rate, your heart becomes stronger and more efficient. As an added benefit, exercise also helps alleviate stress, which can drive up your blood pressure and put you at risk of cardiac complications if left untreated.
2. Eat a Plant-Based Diet.
Even if you don’t want to go vegan or vegetarian, you can still do your heart a lot of good by eating a plant-based diet, meaning the majority of your calories come from fruits, vegetables, lentils and beans, while meat and dairy products are treated more like side dishes than entrees. Eating a plant-based diet increases your intake of heart-healthy antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It also helps you avoid processed junk food, red meat and full-fat dairy products, which contain artery-clogging saturated fat.
3. Limit Your Alcohol Intake.
While there’s some evidence to show that moderate wine intake (2 glasses a day for men, 1 glass a day for women) can have heart-healthy benefits, drinking more than the recommended amount can have adverse effects on your heart since alcohol can raise your blood pressure, cause cardiac arrhythmias, and lead to weight gain. It’s wise to limit, or eliminate, your alcohol consumption.
(Good news: grapes, non-alcoholic wine and grape juice contain the same heart-healthy resveratrol as wine, minus the potential side effects of alcohol!)
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight.
Obesity is one of the top risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Obesity causes a strain on the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure, arrhythmias and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). Obesity can also lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and high cholesterol, which are all additional risk factors for developing heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to help your heart stay healthy and strong.
5. Avoid Tobacco Products.
There’s no way around it: smoking tobacco products (and yes, e-cigarettes count) are bad for your heart. Nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, which can affect the heart muscle. Plus, it increases the risk of clots in major blood vessels, which can also deprive the heart of much-needed oxygen. In addition, smoking causes narrowing and stiffening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Even secondhand smoke increases your risk of heart disease by 25-30%. So even if you’re not a smoker, try to avoid close contact with anyone who’s smoking.
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