You may think cancer is the leading cause of death in America, but you would be mistaken. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.
February is American Heart Month, and unfortunately, most of us know someone who has had heart disease or stroke. Follow these 10 tips for a stronger, healthier heart:
1. Monitor your blood pressure
High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack by up to 25% and stroke by up to 40%. So it’s important to monitor your blood pressure level.
High blood pressure is defined as a reading above 140/90, measured on multiple occasions. A single high reading does not necessarily mean a blood pressure problem. Additional readings will likely be monitored before high blood pressure is clinically diagnosed. Check your blood pressure at the same time every day for a more accurate reading.
2. Check your cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the body. It is necessary for making hormones and repairing cells, but high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.
3. BMI versus BFM
BMI (Body Mass Index) is based on weight and height. It is often used to help determine whether our weight is healthy. Although BMI has long been used to help determine heart disease risk (the higher the BMI, the higher the risk), it may not be as useful as once thought. BMI only takes into account height and weight but tells us nothing about body composition. Consider a very muscular athlete who is 6 feet tall, and a couch potato of the same height and weight. They will not have the same risk factors for heart disease, despite having the same BMI.
A better predictor of heart disease risk is BFM (Body Fat Mass). People with a higher percentage of body fat are more at risk than those with a healthy body fat mass. At least one study has shown that, even in those with a healthy BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9, more than 60% had a body fat percentage that would classify them as obese.
These folks are sometimes called “skinny” fat people. They are at a healthy weight, but their body fat percentage is so high that they’re at increased risk for high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease. Basically, they are out of shape, which increases their cardiovascular disease risk.
To get a sense of your body composition, get your tape measure out. Measure the distance around your waist (at the navel after you have exhaled about halfway), then the distance around your hips (at the widest point), then divide the waist number by the hip number. This will give you your waist to hip ratio, a better indicator of your body composition than BMI.
A waist to hip ratio of 0.8 or less for women and 0.9 or less for men is associated with a lower likelihood of obesity and lower cardiovascular disease risk.
4. Limit alcohol
One to two drinks per day can actually have a positive effect on heart health. More than that, on a regular basis, is associated with an increased risk of illness including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
5. Don’t smoke
We all know about the health risks of smoking; it can lead to reduced blood flow, increased risk of blood clots, and even increase the risk of stroke.
But second-hand smoke is just as deadly. Second-hand smoke significantly increases nonsmokers’ risk of cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that regular exposure to second-hand smoke can increase a nonsmoker’s risk of heart disease by 70 to 80%, almost as high as the risk for a light smoker.
The good news is that within 48 hours of quitting smoking, heart attack risk begins to decrease. In the first year of being smoke-free, the risk drops to half of what it was while smoking. Within 5 to 15 years, the risk becomes the same as for someone who never smoked.
Exercise is a major contributor to cardiovascular health. There are two main types of exercise to consider: aerobic and resistance. Combine aerobic (walking, swimming, biking) with resistance training (weight lifting, yoga) to strengthen your heart. Aim for 150 minutes per week to start!
7. Lower your stress
Chronic or extreme stress can increase inflammation, blood thickness and tendency to clot, blood pressure, poor dietary habits, and other factors putting one at greater risk of heart disease. Research has shown that chronic work or life stress can increase the risk of heart attack more than twofold. Stress from an unhappy marriage can almost triple the risk.
Follow these stress-reducing tips.
8. Maintain your oral health
Poor dental health may be bad for your heart. Periodontitis, an inflammation of the gums due to bacteria-rich plaque on the teeth, can lead to serious gum and tooth disease, but it’s also being increasingly linked to cardiovascular problems.
Oral bacteria may travel from the mouth to the lymphatic system and then into the bloodstream, where it can cause inflammatory reactions that can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of clots. In animal experiments, some oral bacteria have been shown to directly cause hardening of the arteries.
So, brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. Visit your dentist regularly and use an oral mouth rinse like Pathway Gum Tonic.
Fish oils: Taking 3 grams of omega-3’s can lower triglycerides and help reduce inflammation and blood pressure.
CoQ10: Helps support cardiovascular health.
Pathway CARDIO SUPPORT: Heart-healthy nutrients such as folic acid and vitamins B-12 and B-6 support healthy homocysteine levels in the blood. Green tea extract contains a potent antioxidant, EGCG, and is standardized to 50% catachins. L-carnitine plays a role in energy production for heart health. Grape seed extract, hawthorn, magnesium, horsechestnut, soy isoflavone extract, vitamin E, vitamin C, and niacin are also part of this formula, designed to provide comprehensive support to the heart and vascular system.
10. Maintain a healthy diet
Changing our eating habits can have a huge influence on our overall health, including our heart health. Limit sugar, trans fats and processed foods. Focus on fiber, fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein.