3 Simple Ways to a Healthier Heart

Heart disease is a formidable foe. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for approximately 800,000 deaths every year. The Government of Canada notes that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in that country, annually accounting for tens of thousands of deaths. (Note: Canada’s population is slightly more than one-tenth the population of the United States.)

While heart disease exacts a devastating toll on the United States and Canada, its reach extends far beyond North America, as the American College of Cardiology notes that cardiovascular disease accounts for 31 percent of all deaths across the globe.

In spite of the prevalence of heart disease, men and women are not helpless against it. In fact, there are many ways for men and women to reduce their risk for heart disease.

Maintain a healthy weight

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that between 60 and 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Carrying around extra weight takes a toll on the body, increasing a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke. Overweight or obese men and women can work with their physicians to develop a plan for effective, long-term weight loss, a plan that will likely include a combination of diet and routine exercise.

Understand and manage blood pressure

The AHA notes that high blood pressure, a common condition affecting roughly one in three Americans, is often referred to as “the silent killer” because it does not necessarily produce symptoms. Blood pressure measures the force pushing outward on the walls of blood vessels as they carry blood oxygen to the body’s organs and the force created as the heart rests between beats. Over time, the arterial walls of people with high blood pressure may become stressed and develop weak spots or scarring that makes them vulnerable to the buildup of plaque. Plaque buildup can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke. Blood pressure can rise as a person ages so managing blood pressure involves routinely checking it and making certain changes, such as eating healthier foods and exercising more often, if it is high.

Control cholesterol levels

High levels of low-density lipoprotein, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can increase a person’s risk for heart disease. The AHA notes that excessive amounts of cholesterol can be deposited into the arteries as plaque. When that happens, it leads to a condition known as atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the inside of the artery walls. That narrowing leads to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Men and women should get their cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years beginning at age 20. Men and women who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol should recognize that cholesterol is only found in animal products, so a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in animal products can provide a simple way for men and women to lower their cholesterol. A more thorough and detailed plan to lower cholesterol levels should be discussed with a physician.

More information about heart disease and how to combat it can be found at www.heart.org.