5 Ways to Protect Your Heart

Heart disease is the number one leading cause of adult deaths for both men and women in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Heart health was trending this February as America celebrated Heart Month. Groups like Go Red for Women and the American Heart Association spread vital health and wellness information to protect and strengthen your heart. Though February and American Heart Month might be over, we want to keep the conversation going and encourage more people to take preventative measures against heart disease. Here are five ways to keep your heart pumping strong all year long!

  1. Lower your high cholesterol. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease because as cholesterol builds up, it forms plaque in the arteries. If a piece of plaque were to break off and clog an artery, it could cause a heart attack or stroke.

Depending on the severity of your high cholesterol levels and its effect on the body, your doctor might prescribe you medication. Statins are most often prescribed for high cholesterol; if your doctor believes that your chances of a blood clot are high, you may also be prescribed a blood thinner. While these medications do work and can help, they can also harm. For example, statins have a history of causing memory issues, liver and muscle damage, and can also increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Blood thinners aren’t much better as far as risk is concerned. Current Xarelto lawsuits that patients have filed illuminate the serious adverse side effects of the medication that include severe bleeding and even death.

Again, these medications do work and can help people lower their high cholesterol. But before you put yourself at risk for any possible adverse side effects, there are more natural ways to reduce your high cholesterol. Simple diet changes like eating soluble fibers or avoiding trans fats are easy ways to lower your cholesterol levels and avoid potentially harmful side effects of medications. Harvard Health created a great piece about what to look out for in your diet to lower your cholesterol.

  1. Reduce high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, then your blood vessels and heart are working under extreme pressure (literally) to circulate blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body. Over time, this built-up pressure can cause damage to your blood vessels and heart, leaving them less efficient and prone to other health risks.

Like high cholesterol, there are medications that a person can take to lower high blood pressure, but again, no medication comes without some level of risk. By taking preventative measures like maintaining a healthy diet, a person can naturally lower their blood pressure levels. One of the most highly recommended diets to lower high blood pressure is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Recommended by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the DASH diet focuses on lower levels of sodium, refined sugars and grains, and saturated and trans saturated fats. In fact, research by the NHLBI found that a patient following the DASH diet can significantly lower high blood pressure in just two weeks.

  1. Quit smoking. Another risk factor of both heart disease and high blood pressure is smoking. Nicotine can cause your blood vessels to constrict when you smoke. This raises your blood pressure and puts strain on your heart, increasing your chances of a heart attack or stroke. If you continue to smoke despite the respiratory problems and other health concerns it causes, heart disease is hopefully the additional health risk that prompts you to quit this year.
  1. Treat your diabetes properly. Did you know that a patient with type 2 diabetes is two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone without? If you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, it’s critical to keep your blood glucose levels low to reduce your risk of heart disease.

While medications and treatments like insulin therapy are required to treat diabetes, there are lifestyle changes that can make living with diabetes easier. The American Diabetes Association reports that regular exercise can help a diabetic lower their blood sugar levels and reduce your A1C. Someone with type 2 diabetes should also consider implementing healthier eating habits to control their diabetes. The glycemic index is a great tool for diabetics to use when creating a health meal plan. The glycemic index ranks foods based on the food’s ability to affect blood glucose levels. By finding a balance between foods that raise or lower blood sugar levels, a diabetic can better control spikes and dips.

  1. Lose weight. A person who is overweight or obese has a greater chance of developing heart disease as well as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight is a great way to curb those risks and promote a healthy heart. Consider weight loss methods like increased activity levels and smarter food choices to lower your risk for these and other serious health conditions.

Don’t confine heart health to one month of the year. Make it a conversation that lasts 12 months and beyond. By making real, healthy changes in your life, you can protect your heart and body from the dangers of heart disease. Spread the love to more hearts by sharing this information with your friends and family as your embark on your heart-healthy lifestyle changes in 2018.