Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in 32% of all deaths – and yet heart disease is a condition most of us can avoid. As World Heart Day approaches, we aim to inform our readers about effective ways lifestyle modifications can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
There are many steps we can take to reduce our chances of becoming one of the 17.9 million annual heart disease deaths. So, what can we do? Here are 9 top lifestyle tips for staying healthy and avoiding cardiovascular disease:
1. Stop smoking cigarettes, shisha & vaping
It’s commonly known that smoking leads to lung cancer, but it is also one of the biggest risk factors in developing cardiovascular disease. Quitting any form of tobacco intake, whether it is cigarettes, shisha or vaping, can give your heart health a significant boost. That’s because smoking damages blood vessels and heart tissue, allowing plaque build-up in the arteries. It also lowers good cholesterol (HDL), and, as if that wasn’t enough, it’s also a factor in high blood pressure.
2. Exercise and become more active
Just like your biceps and calves, your heart is a muscle, and it must be exercised regularly to stay healthy. A strong heart can pump more blood around the body using less effort. Walking, cycling, and swimming all help to strengthen your heart and burn calories. Heart doctors recommend at least 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular exercise.
3. Eat a Mediterranean diet
A good diet for your heart contains plenty of oily fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and skinless poultry. Health professionals have described the Mediterranean diet as a healthy choice containing a great balance of nutrients. Recent research studies also report that heart disease can be dramatically improved—and even reversed—by a plant-based diet.
4. Choose protein
Carbohydrates from refined foods such as white bread, rice, cake, and biscuits are quickly turned into sugar in our bloodstream. Proteins are far slower acting and less likely to cause ‘spikes’ in our blood sugar levels. They also make us feel full for longer so that we are less likely to overeat and put on weight.
5. Increase fibre intake
Try to eat twenty to forty grams of soluble fibre daily in the form of oatmeal or a cereal containing oats. This fibre binds cholesterol in the digestive system, making it easier for the body to expel it.
Other whole grains such as barley, rye, spelt, and quinoa also contain soluble fibre. So too do pulses, including kidney beans, chickpeas, and black eye peas. Another form of soluble fibre – pectin – is found in fruits such as apples, grapes, strawberries, oranges and lemons.
6. Maintain a healthy weight
When you are overweight, your blood pressure increases, your triglyceride levels rise, and good cholesterol levels fall. A heart attack is then far more likely. It’s possible to check whether your weight is in a healthy range by doing a Body Mass Index (BMI) check. People with muscular body types may not receive accurate results with BMI and are better suited to other methods such as blood tests and comprehensive body composition analysis.
7. Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure can result in a stroke or heart attack because it puts strain on your heart, and other organs such as the kidneys and arteries are also affected. Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 140/90mmHg. Too much salt in your diet can increase blood pressure, so cutting salt intake to no more than 6g (one teaspoon) a day can help.
8. Maintain good cholesterol levels
The liver produces cholesterol, but it’s also found in our food, especially meat and full-fat dairy products. Saturated and trans fats increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and should be avoided as much as possible. The latter are found in hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine, while saturated fat is found in butter and red meat.
This bad cholesterol can build up in the arteries, forming hard deposits, narrowing the arteries and resulting in a stroke or heart attack. Eating a handful (50g) of unsalted nuts each day, such as almonds, brazil nuts, or cashews, can cut back on bad cholesterol by around 5%.
9. Keep blood sugar low
Food is transformed into glucose in our body and our muscles can burn this for energy. But if we have too much glucose, it can damage our heart and other organs. It can also result in diabetes, and people with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely than others to develop cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is also known to present itself differently in women. To learn more about the gender gap in cardiovascular disease, read this article.
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