Think of all the people in your life. Your parents, your brothers and sisters, your uncles and aunts, your children, and all your friends. By all the current studies, roughly 25% of them will die of heart disease. That’s one in four.
Hard to imagine, right? We don’t mean to bum you out. But this is important: heart disease is the number one threat to health, for both men and women, and you need to know the facts about the risks and how to reduce it. We’ll be splitting the issue between men and women to focus more specifically on the unique challenges each face.
What is Heart Disease, Anyway?
Heart disease is a catch-all term for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart disease. The key to avoiding most heart diseases is to avoid blood clots in the arteries that circulate blood, or inflammation in the arteries, which prevent blood from carrying oxygen and energy to the heart.
There are a number of negative effects from these clogs, the worst of which is cardiac arrest. When you have a heart attack, it’s a race for treatment to clear out the blockage before it stops beating completely.
These blood clots are often caused by plaque build up. This build up starts from a young age: all that junk food you ate in your 20s will come back to haunt you in your 50s if you don’t take the proper steps for your health.
What are these proper steps? You probably know most of them already: it’s doing them that’s the hard part.
1) Avoid Tobacco
Incase it hasn’t been made clear enough by now: tobacco is a poison. There is no dosage that does not negatively impact your health. The chemicals in tobacco can damage your blood vessel and lead to arteries narrowing, which make heart attack more likely. Furthermore, the carbon monoxide from smoking tobacco replaces oxygen in your blood. That boosts your heart pressure (the speed at which blood circles your body to oxygenate all your cells), making your heart work harder and increasing your risk of an attack.
Even a few smokes a week are enough to cause a significantly higher chance of an attack, but the good news is that when you quit, your risk of heart disease steadily lowers over the next five years until it approaches close to that of non-smokers. No matter how long you’ve smoked, quitting is still something that has drastic benefits to your health.
You don’t need to run marathons or lift weights to get the health benefits of being active. All it takes is 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, a few times a week. Your heart is a muscle, and giving it a workout makes it stronger and more efficient. Unlike higher blood pressure from things like smoking, when you exercise your heart isn’t racing to meet your normal oxygen needs: instead it’s spreading more oxygen than it normally does, and faster.
Exercise also helps you control your weight, which is one of the most highly correlated indicators of heart disease. The bigger you are, the more oxygen your body needs: after puberty, your heart does not grow bigger if the rest of you does. Every extra pound of flesh means more work for your heart, so staying fit is a great way to stay safe.
3) Eat Healthy
This metric is one of the hardest to keep to. We didn’t evolve in an environment where so much food of such variety was always available, so our body craves all the sugars and fats and salts it can get, without realizing the damage they do. The dos and don’ts are fairly simple however.
Avoid trans fats, which are found in deep fried fast food, bakery products, margarine, and anything that says “partially hydrogenated” on the nutrition label.
Eat more heart-healthy foods, like salmon, avocado, nuts, olives, fruits (not juices!), and vegetables that are rich in fiber. Many of these have the added bonus of helping you avoid cancer and diabetes.
And of course, watch your alcohol intake. Like tobacco, alcohol is a poison, and the body can’t process more than a drink or two a day before it begins to harm our system.
There are other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, such as lowering stress and getting plenty of sleep, and as long as you ask your doctor every checkup what you can do to help improve your odds, and then follow their advice, you can avoid being part of that 1 in 4.