It may not be at the top of most to-do lists, but caring for your heart is important. Changes to your lifestyle, including eating healthy and exercising often, are great ways to start preventing heart disease and stroke, the No.1 and No. 5 killers of all Americans. According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented.
Prevention can be as simple as making the healthy choice most of the time. When faced with the decision to take the elevator or stairs, you take the stairs. These simple steps can make a huge impact on your health.
Get active. You don’t have to join a gym or run a marathon. Start small by incorporating physical activity into your daily routine by parking at the farthest end of the parking lot or using your lunch break to take a quick walk. Staying active is one of the most important things a person can do to help curb obesity, lower your chances of disease and live healthy.
Keep cholesterol in check. High levels of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, can clog your arteries. This increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. HDL, “good” cholesterol, helps clean out that bad cholesterol from the arteries. Improve your cholesterol by exercising regularly and limiting saturated fat, red meats, full-fat dairy and processed foods with trans fats.
Control blood pressure. One in three Americans have high blood pressure. Get it checked routinely since it has no outward symptoms. Reducing sodium, losing weight and exercising can help manage blood pressure, as well as blood pressure-lowering medicines.
Eat better. Aim to fill half of your plate with healthy fruits and vegetables, and then fill in the rest with lean protein and whole grains. Go easy on added fats, sugar and salt. The American Heart Association also recommends consuming fish twice a week, like salmon. Instead of dieting, making long-term, healthy choices should be your goal.
Lose weight. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. The American Heart Association recommends starting by knowing your healthy weight range and aiming to get there in small increments. You can shed 24 pounds a year by dropping just two pounds a month, and losing as few as 10 pounds decreases your heart disease risk. Use an online calorie calculator to know how many calories you should consume to maintain a healthy weight. Then start enjoying plenty of fiber and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, adding lean proteins and whole grains. Slowly increase your aerobic physical activity each week while reducing the calories you take in.
Reduce blood sugar. Diabetes can quadruple your risk of heart disease or stroke. Manage or prevent diabetes by eating right, controlling your weight, exercising and taking medication prescribed by your doctor.
Stop smoking. With one in five deaths caused by smoking, going smoke-free can help prevent not only heart disease and stroke, but also cancer and chronic lung disease.