Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? Lifelong cardiovascular health is imperative to your overall quality of life and the reduction of health issues, such as heart disease and stroke. As you age, maintaining and promoting cardiovascular health becomes even more important. Adults 65 and older are at higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease and heart failure. Alison Bailey, MD, FACC, chief of cardiology at Centennial Heart at Parkridge, recommends seven steps that anyone can take to improve their heart health.
“The beauty of living a healthy lifestyle is that it not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, but also reduces the risk of developing other life-threatening medical issues such as obesity, sleep apnea, chronic kidney disease and many forms of cancer,” Dr. Bailey said. “People who implemented five or more of Life's Simple 7 from the American Heart Association reduced their risk of heart related death by 78 percent. Additionally, those who implemented at least six of these tips saved on average $2021 on healthcare costs.”
Life's Simple 7:
MANAGE BLOOD PRESSURE. You may not even know if you have high blood pressure because it generally causes no symptoms. However, high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, peripheral artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm and chronic kidney disease. The ideal blood pressure is less than or equal to 120/80. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthier diet and managing stress can all have positive effects on your blood pressure. However, you may need an additional medication and should always speak to your cardiologist about the best treatment plan for you.
CONTROL CHOLESTEROL. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fat found in your blood. We absorb cholesterol from foods we eat, specifically meats, cheeses, eggs and other common protein sources. Our bodies need cholesterol to build healthy cells. However, high cholesterol levels lead to plaque buildup in the arteries which can cause heart attack, angina and stroke. High cholesterol can be inherited but often results from making unhealthy lifestyle choices. A healthy diet, routine exercise and medication can all help reduce high cholesterol. Your primary care physician can tell you if you have or are at-risk for high cholesterol levels and help you identify an individualized treatment plan based on your risk factors.
REDUCE BLOOD SUGAR. Our body turns many foods we eat into glucose (blood sugar) for energy. Too much blood sugar is known as hyperglycemia and, over time, can lead to heart attack, stroke, eye damage, kidney disease or failure, and nerve problems in the skin which can contribute to infections and wound healing problems. Though your doctor may prescribe insulin to manage blood sugar depending on your treatment plan, there are several ways to naturally reduce blood sugar, including regular exercise, managing carbohydrate intake, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, staying hydrated, and choosing foods with a low glycemic index. Talk to your doctor about your personal blood sugar targets and a treatment plan that works for you.
GET ACTIVE. Daily exercise can increase the length and quality of your life and reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many other common health issues. Any amount of cardiovascular activity is better than nothing and can be as simple as taking a walk, dancing along to your favorite song or going for a quick bike ride. If you haven't been active in a few years, start out slow with low-impact exercises such as taking a walk, riding a stationary bike, or going for a swim. Shoot for a goal of 150 minutes of activity per week to maintain a healthier heart. Everyone should consult their physician to find out what types of exercise are suitable for their individual goals and fitness levels.
EAT BETTER. A healthy diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to your heart health, as unhealthy dietary habits are directly linked to several cardiovascular risk factors. Focus on eating fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, fish and whole grains to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. Overeating can also lead to increased health risks. Make sure your foods are appropriately portioned by measuring serving sizes, counting calories or listening to your body's natural hunger cues. Consult your physician or dietician to find a healthy eating plan that works for your goals.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT. Although this is easier said than done, maintaining a healthy body weight reduces the burden on your heart, muscles and joints to keep your body functioning at its best. Aim for a healthy weight by staying active and making mindful choices in your diet. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for weight maintenance, but successful strategies include eating whole foods, avoiding processed foods and added sugars, and reducing portion sizes.
STOP SMOKING. Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, as well as other serious health issues such as lung cancer. If you're a smoker, quitting is one of the best steps you can take to improve your health.