Four keys to prevent cardiovascular disease
After decades of steady decline, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) has risen over the past few years, according to the American Heart Association.
The good news is that an estimated 80% of all CVD cases — heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke — can be prevented. The key is to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol and to maintain healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, eating a plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking.
No surprise, right? This advice has been consistent for many years.
But the best way to meet these standards is to change how you think about heart health, advises Dr. Ron Blankstein, a preventive cardiologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"Heart health is not about short-term fixes, but rather making long-term lifestyle changes," he says. "You are not destined to have poor heart health, and there are simple steps you can take that may lower your risk if you approach it the right way."
Here is a closer look at the main areas you should focus on.
Federal guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week. "Keep in mind that this is the minimum, and evidence suggests that doing more is better," says Dr. Blankstein.
If this sounds daunting, focus on different types of activity that you enjoy. For instance, Dr. Blankstein suggests spreading your total activity time across two areas: purposeful exercise and daily movement.
Purposeful exercises are the traditional workouts like power walking, treadmill running, swimming, cycling, or rowing. For daily movement, focus on doing small bouts of activity throughout your day, such as these:
- Walk for five minutes every two hours.
- Do a set or two of push-ups either on the floor or against the kitchen counter.
- Perform up to 10 repetitions of stand-and-sit exercises, where you rise from a chair not using your arms and then sit down again.
Also, look for opportunities to do extra movements. For example, wash your car instead of using the drive-through car wash, park farther away from the grocery store, take the stairs, and do simple yard work like weeding, planting, and raking. "Every bit of everyday movement can count toward your overall exercise requirements," says Dr. Blankstein.
For heart protection, your diet should focus on plant foods, and you should minimize your intake of red meat, especially processed meat, according to Dr. Blankstein.
The plant-based diets that have been most studied for heart health are the Mediterranean diet, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, and the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet. Each one emphasizes foods associated with heart healthy benefits, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and healthy oils like olive oil.
Guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis.
Studies have found that getting less than this amount is associated with heart disease risk factors like higher stress, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
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