At the Heart of the Matter: Preventing and Treating Heart Disease
Over the last few years, we've heard mostly good news about how heart disease is on the decline in the US. Despite all the positive talk about heart disease, it is still a condition that is of great concern, especially for women and those who are obese. Here are some tips for staying heart-healthy.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information provides us with the following goals for people with heart disease:
- "Blood pressure less than or equal to 140/90 (even lower for some patients with diabetes, kidney disease, or heart failure)
- - Glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels less than or equal to 7% for people with diabetes
- - LDL cholesterol level less than or equal to 100 mg/dL (even lower for some patients)"
Treatment can be provided through medication or, even better, through lifestyle changes. As a health coach, I would encourage you to make lifestyle changes, as doing so can also prevent heart disease in those who have not yet been diagnosed with it.
- Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Choose lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans, and legumes
- Eat low-fat dairy products, such as 1% milk and low-fat yogurt
- Eat fewer animal products that contain cheese, cream, or eggs
- Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
- Eat more vegetables and fruits
- Select whole grains
- Reduce the sodium in your food
- Control your portion size
- Allow yourself an occasional treat
Using nutrition as a way to keep your heart healthy will have the added benefit of helping to keep body weight and body composition (amount of fat vs. muscle, bone, and other tissue) at healthy points for your build. In addition to measuring your weight and knowing your body composition, it is helpful to use waist circumference as a rough measure of abdominal fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm). Keep in mind that this is a general guideline.
To treat or prevent heart disease, avoid drinking too much alcohol. Excessive drinking causes high blood pressure which puts added stress on the heart (CDC).
Tobacco use, including smoking, is a significant risk factor for heart disease. "Nicotine constricts blood vessels and forces your heart to work harder, and carbon monoxide reduces oxygen in your blood and damages the lining of your blood vessels. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease and its complications" (Mayo Clinic). Though tobacco use, including inhaling second-hand smoke, is one of the greatest risk factors for heart disease, those who quit smoking will see positive results immediately, and they will experience even better health outcomes as time goes on.
There are some health screenings that will help you treat or prevent heart disease. Beyond the screenings listed below, it is important to see your health care provider on a regular basis.
- Blood pressure - Check your blood pressure at least once every two years. This can be done with your health care provider or at locations like the pharmacy. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, as measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)" (Mayo Clinic).
- Cholesterol - If you are in your 20s, get your cholesterol checked now to get a baseline measurement. After your 20s, you should get your cholesterol checked every 5 years. "Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 3.4 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). If you have other risk factors for heart disease, your target LDL may be below 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L)" (Mayo Clinic).
- Diabetes - Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years" (Mayo Clinic).
Though heart disease is a critical, life-threatening condition, leading a healthy lifestyle can alleviate and prevent issues in a short amount of time. Investing in a healthy lifestyle leads to a happy, healthy life. Remember, you're in control!
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