7 Steps Toward a Healthy Heart and Long Life
January W. Payne
More than 1 in 3 Americans have at least one type of cardiovascular disease -- including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, or stroke. And yet many of them believe that their heart health is "ideal." In fact, 4 in 10 Americans surveyed say their heart health is ideal even though they ignore their risk factors for heart disease, according to the
More than half of those who reported having ideal heart health admit that a health professional has told them in the past that they have a risk factor for heart disease or that they should change their lifestyle in order to improve their health.
Whether you believe your heart is in great shape or not, here are the AHA's seven steps to take early in life to ward off cardiovascular disease:
1. DON'T SMOKE
Having never smoked or having quit more than a year ago is one of the factors that put people in the "ideal" category for heart health, according to the AHA. Smokers are at higher risk for developing health problems such as atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty material in the arteries, which can result in heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking itself is considered to be the most important preventable cause of premature death in this country, the AHA reports.
If you live with another smoker and want to quit, try to persuade him or her to quit, too, advises
"The thing that is most important is having a concerned significant other who is providing support," Yancy says. Smokers are usually more successful in quitting if they live with a nonsmoker or "with someone who is also quitting or wants to quit."
2. LOWER YOUR BODY MASS INDEX
To protect your heart, aim for a body mass index lower than 25, the AHA says.
The key is "energy in versus energy out," Yancy says. "It is an overall program, (including) selection of food items, portion size, and burning calories." But don't be overly concerned if you find a BMI of less than 25 to be a goal too difficult to reach. "Any weight loss is a benefit," Yancy says.
3. EXERCISE SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK
A routine that includes at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week -- brisk walking, ballroom dancing, or gardening, for example -- or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, such as jogging, aerobic dancing, or jumping rope, is one of the targets for achieving ideal heart health, according to the AHA.
Still, it's not always easy to start an exercise regimen if you've been sedentary for a long time. A good general rule of thumb: "If you're doing nothing, do something, and if you're doing something, do more," Yancy says. Then, gradually lengthen your exercise routine until you meet the recommended targets.
4. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY DIET
To control weight and blood pressure, add variety to your diet by including fruits and vegetables that are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Also, eat unrefined whole-grain foods, which help you feel full faster and improve your cholesterol level. Eating fish at least two times per week may help decrease your risk of death from heart disease by supplying you with omega-3 fatty acids. Select lean meat and skinless poultry, and when it comes to dairy products, buy fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat items.
5. CONTROL YOUR CHOLESTEROL
Having a total cholesterol level of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter is the goal for ideal heart health. While you've most likely heard talk about "good" and "bad" types of cholesterol, "what research shows is that one number matters most to the most people, and that's the total cholesterol," Yancy says. A blood test at your doctor's office can let you know where you stand.
About 75 percent of blood cholesterol comes from your liver and other cells; 25 percent comes from food you eat. Emphasize foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat. A good target? Limit your intake to 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily, the AHA advises. If you've just been diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medication to help control it, or he may suggest that you make lifestyle changes first -- such as changing your diet and exercising -- to see if that brings your cholesterol level down without medication.
6. LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
One in 3 adults has high blood pressure, but about 21 percent don't know they have it, according to the AHA. Considered the most significant risk factor for heart disease, hypertension -- if left uncontrolled -- can be deadly. It can result in heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or kidney failure. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
Doctors can prescribe medications to help control blood pressure, but drug-free approaches -- such as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, stress management, decreasing alcohol use, staying away from tobacco smoke, and keeping your body at a healthy weight -- may help, too.
7. AIM FOR A FASTING BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVEL LESS THAN 100 MG/DL
Adults who have diabetes are two to four times as likely to end up with heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes, according to the AHA. And even properly controlled diabetes still carries risk; simply having the disease heightens the chance of heart disease and stroke. Still, it's important to control blood sugar in order to slow the onset of long-term problems, and keeping blood sugar in check can even decrease the need for medications.
Diabetics should keep up with regular checkups and make sure that other risk factors -- such as high blood pressure -- are controlled, as well.
- 7 Steps Toward a Healthy Heart and Long Life
- Health Care Reform Overhaul: What Happens When
- Healthiest Artificial Sweetener
- Enjoying Tuna Without Endangering Your Health
- Eight Uncommon Fruits Worth A Try
- Phthalates Plastics Health Risks
- Understanding Migraine Headaches: Six Key Factors
- Lowering Elevated Diastolic Blood Pressure
- Treatment Options Can Help Reduce Symptom of Tinnitus
- Safe Treatments Available for Advanced Carotid Artery Disease
- Early Treatment Often Best Response to Recurrent Shingles
- Cranberry juice and Urinary Tract Infections
- 6 Ways to Fight the Flu for Real
- How Many Crunches are Enough
- Fit Your Bike For the Perfect Ride
- 6 Ways to Fight the Flu for Real
- Live Healthy Now: Have More Sex Later
- Match the Pain Reliever to the Pain
- Improve Your Memory in 7 Days
- Beautiful You: Treat Hair With Care
- Should My Baby Get the Rotavirus Vaccine?
- How to Green Your Baby's Nursery
(c) 2010 U.S. News and World Report