Your heart is your body’s engine. A heart in good running condition helps to keep your other systems running properly. Since it’s responsible for pumping blood throughout your body, it has an impact on every aspect of your health, for better or worse. Heart health is important at every age, but it seems to have the most impact when you reach middle age.
Researchers followed 26,000 Americans for 40 years, and the results show just how important heart health is. Those with optimal heart health lived an average of four years longer than those with two or more risk factors for heart disease. Perhaps even more importantly, those with optimal heart health lived five years longer free of chronic disease. Heart health doesn’t just help you live longer. It helps you live a healthy and functional life longer.
The heart healthy patients who did experience a heart attack or stroke experienced it seven years later than the other group. Diseases like cancer, kidney disease, lung disease, and dementia showed up much later in the heart healthy group as well. Heart health increases the quality as well as the quantity of your life.
The study defined optimal heart health as individuals with healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, a healthy weight, nonsmokers, and without diabetes. One major risk factor in the development of heart disease is smoking. Smoking constricts your blood vessels. It can also damage the lining of the vessels. This contributes to narrowing and hardening of the arteries, and it puts you at a greater risk of heart disease.
It’s never too late to stop smoking. Stopping smoking at any age can help reverse some of the damage done by cigarettes. Within one day of quitting, your heart rate will slow, your blood pressure will go begin to drop, and your oxygen levels will increase. Your risk of heart attack and coronary artery disease begins to lower one day after quitting smoking.
A diet high in fat, salt, sugar can greatly contribute to heart disease. However, a healthy diet is about more than avoiding unhealthy foods. It’s also about replacing them with healthier alternatives. A heart healthy diet includes more fruits and vegetables, beans, fish, yogurt, whole grains. You should lower the amount of red meat, sugar, and saturated fat in your diet. You should also avoid processed foods whenever possible.
To clean up your diet, start by adding in healthy foods—don’t immediately try to stop eating the bad ones. Over time as you develop a taste for the healthier foods it will be easier to replace them with the bad ones. For example add green tea to your next meal. At first you can still have a soda, but over time work towards drinking more of the tea than the soda during your meal until you stop drinking it altogether. Other healthy choices include fish instead of beef. Choose baked sweet potato fries over deep fried french fries. When you begin making simple swaps like these, eating healthier will become a habit.
High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
High blood pressure and cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease, because they cause the arteries to harden and narrow. These can both be lowered by eating a healthy diet.
Processed foods normally contain high levels of sodium and unhealthy fats. To lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, you will need to lower your intake of salt and saturated fat. Read the label on any prepackaged items to lower your intake. When you are cooking, try using spices to flavor your food instead of salt, and use a healthy oil like olive oil or coconut oil.
Diabetes is another major risk factor for heart disease. 68% of people with diabetes over the age of 65 die from some form of heart disease, and those with diabetes are two to four times more likely than those without diabetes to die from heart disease.
Losing weight, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet low in sugar can help lower your risk of diabetes.
Obesity is a direct risk factor for heart disease. A healthy diet that’s lower in calories and exercise are the best prevention and treatment for obesity. Exercise is essential for a healthy heart. It strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and reduces inflammation in your arteries.
If you have any risk factors for heart disease, now is the time to do something about it. Your heart and your body will reap the benefits for many years to come.
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