New Ways to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke
1. Take responsibility for your health.
Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death in America, accounting for 34 percent of deaths, many suddenly and almost all of them premature. This is down from 40 percent just four decades ago, mainly due to treatment of common risk factors. If you have diabetes, your risk increases dramatically. The best prevention against heart disease and stroke is to understand the risks and treatment options. The greatest risk to your health is ignorance or misinformation. The first step is to take responsibility for your health.
2. Know your risks.
The most influential risk factor for cardiovascular disease is age – the older you are, the greater your risk. The second is your genetic make-up. Although everyone is excited by the scientific progress in genomics research, conclusive gene tests are still in their infancy. We have long known that if your parents, grandparents, or other relatives were afflicted with or died of heart disease, diabetes or stroke, your risk is much greater.
3. Don’t smoke or if you do, stop. Limit your exposure to second-hand smoke.
The evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoking and second-hand exposure to smoke increases the risks of heart disease, lung disease, peripheral vascular disease and stroke.
4. Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
High blood pressure, called hypertension, is known as “the silent killer” as it goes without symptoms in most individuals. High blood pressure causes wear and tear of the delicate inner lining of your blood vessels. The higher your blood pressure (BP) the greater your risk. Now that new guidelines have been released the risk begins to increase from a pressure of 130/80 mmHg and doubles for each 10 mmHg increase in systolic (the larger number) and 5 mmHg increase in the diastolic (the smaller number). Heredity and increasing age raise the risks. Measuring blood pressures at home is worth the investment of getting a cuffmeter. The more accurately and frequently you can measure your blood pressure and risk is the best prevention.
5. Monitor your cholesterol (blood lipids).
Abnormal or high blood lipids (fats) are a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. Your blood lipids include the LDL (bad cholesterol; remember as “Lousy cholesterol”), HDL (good cholesterol; remember as “Healthy cholesterol”) and triglycerides. The lower your LDL and the higher your HDL, the better your prognosis. The amount of cholesterol in your blood is determined mainly by three factors: the amount produced by the liver (this is largely genetic), the amount absorbed from the intestinal tract (some from what you eat, but a lot more from cholesterol produced by the liver and excreted into the digestive tract) and, finally, age – your cholesterol increases with age. If you are at risk, medication may be necessary to lower the LDL or to raise your HDL. The ideal ratio of total cholesterol divided by HDL cholesterol is 3.0. If higher, you might need diet as therapy. The problem with diet is that, in general, it can only decrease total blood cholesterol by about 10 percent. If you have a strong family history or elevated Lp(a) (a rare abnormal cholesterol that increases the risk), drug therapy is usually needed.
6. Limit your sugar.
Fad diets do not work. If any of them did, we all would be on THAT one, wouldn’t we? The obesity rate in Americans is alarming, contributing to a near epidemic of diabetes, which is a cardiovascular disease. If you have diabetes, your risk is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. Abdominal obesity is the major risk. Portion sizes and the amount of sugars in the American diet have dramatically increased over the past few decades. At the same time, the daily amount of exercise has been decreasing. It is good advice to “drink slim” (water, tea, coffee). Use mindfulness when eating and pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and “mindless” eating cues.
7. Make exercise a daily habit.
The lack of exercise is contributing to the lack of cardiovascular health in Americans. Studies indicate that walking two miles a day is optimal for overall health, and those two miles of walking do not have to be done all at once. Exercise does more than burn calories; it also activates genes that are beneficial to health in other ways. Plus, exercise is one of the best treatments for depression and anxiety. However, you must modify your diet, then exercise can help create and maintain the shape you desire for your body.
8. Reduce stress.
We know now stress contributes to cardiovascular disease and, if severe, and research has shown stress can contribute to heart attacks or even sudden death. There are plenty of options that help reduce stress, such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, meditation, laughing, volunteering or attention to spiritual or religious life. Also, avoiding situations which make you anxious or angry can help lower your daily stress.
9. Stay informed: Medical Science changes.
The only constant is change. This is especially true in medicine as new information, techniques and insights evolve. Although every piece of “scientific information” you find in the media or advertisements needs to be researched thoroughly. An overwhelming number of claims that make it into social media and TV advertisements yield data that is not representative of empirical science, e.g., due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
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*The content presented on this page is not intended to diagnose health problems or take the place of professional medical care.