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Four Steps to Lower Your Heart Disease Risk

Guest blog by: Lindsey Pasieka

Nearly half of Americans have risk factors for heart disease, and it’s ranked as the number one killer in our nation, for both men and women. The statistics are scary, and the disease is made all the more prevalent because of some Americans’ poor lifestyle choices. Processed foods, little to no exercise, and a lack of nutritional education– these all contribute to an unhealthy heart, and over a lifetime, can push you towards heart disease. But no more! It’s time to take control of your heart health, and I’m here to help. With these few simple steps, you can lower your risk!

 

Assess Your Risk Level

When it comes to heart health, it’s imperative to arm yourself with knowledge. The more you know, the better you can fight heart disease and its risk factors. Speak with your doctor about your family history, especially if you have direct relatives with a history of heart disease. They may perform blood work, or issue a stress test to see how well your heart is functioning. After you get the results, speak with your physician about what they mean. Make sure you understand fully, and ask as many questions as you need to.

 

Shift Your Dietary Habits

After smoking, the top risk factors for heart disease are high cholesterol, hypertension and type II diabetes. All of these are connected to diet in one way or another, so that should be your first stop. *Note: Diabetes requires insulin injections and may require other medications for treatment. However, diabetes starts as insulin resistance, or prediabetes, which IS reversible with proper dietary and lifestyle changes.

To treat all these conditions, you’ll want to eliminate processed foods, saturated and trans fats, and super sugary treats. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may need an individualized plan, which is where a nutritionist can be most helpful. But if you’re looking for a simple place to start, here are a few options:

For Prediabetes: Following the glycemic index can do wonders for your blood sugar levels. The index is just that: a ranked list of foods. They’re listed based on how they affect blood sugar levels, so a lower numbered food will have less impact.

For High Cholesterol: As Tara mentioned in another article, fiber is the number one way to help this condition. Not only does it prevent cholesterol absorption, it removes bile (which is made from cholesterol) from your body, meaning your body will actually USE the cholesterol it absorbs to make more. A good level to stay above is ~35 grams of fiber per day. Also helpful are plant sterols and stanols, since they reduce cholesterol absorption as well.

For Hypertension: Researchers actually developed a specific set of guidelines for this risk factor. They call it the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Like diets for high cholesterol, it recommends an increase in fiber, along with more potassium, calcium, and protein. This diet is so effective, researchers found that it helped lower blood pressure in just 2 weeks.

 

Get Moving

Diet alone can only do so much. As you take steps to ease the symptoms of risk factors, it’s important to strengthen your heart as well. This is where exercise comes in! The American Heart Association recommends 5 days of exercise a week, with just 30 minutes a day. To count as aerobic exercise, you’ll need to elevate your heart rate over 100 BPM, and keep it there for a sustained period of time.

If you dislike running, walking, or using machines, remember that there are plenty of ways to get your heart pumping. Joining a class can be helpful, as the instructor and classmates encourage each other to succeed. Hiking can make a simple walk much more fun while you explore nature. Even a pick-up football game counts, and gives you a healthy way to spend time with friends.

 

Consider Medications Carefully

In some cases, medications are unavoidable. If you’ve made the above changes and haven’t been able to lower your risk enough– or if you are in danger of a cardiac event, you may need to consider adding a medication into your routine. This is not a failure! You’ve taken important steps for your overall health, and that is a huge accomplishment.

However, if you are considering a medication, be careful. No drug comes without risks, and drugs for cardiac issues are no different.  Before you go on any medication, make sure to talk with your doctor about the potential side effects. Again, it’s all about arming yourself with knowledge. You should feel confident that you’ve picked the lowest-risk option available, that you know how to safely take the medication, and what to do if you experience any negative symptoms.

 

Taking Control

There you have it! With these tools in your toolbox, you can empower yourself to change your lifestyle, make healthy choices, and lower your risk for heart disease. If you’d like to learn more, contact Tara; together, you can change the statistics!

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