There is a misconception that heart attacks only occur in men, but a recent study from Harvard Medical School found that 92% of women are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The heart’s job is to keep us alive by pumping oxygen-enriched vital blood to every cell in our body, doing all the jobs that keep us going. With such an important role, it is essential to do everything possible to keep our hearts healthy and strong.
Many believe that cardiovascular disease has such a strong genetic component that little can be done to prevent the inevitable. Please don’t fall for this wrong thinking. There is an old expression that says:
“GENETICS LOADS THE GUN, BUT LIFESTYLE PULLS THE TRIGGER.”
We cannot stress the importance of good nutrition and exercise. The heart is a muscle and the more it works, the stronger it becomes. A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat protein, and healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. It just so happens that it is the same diet that is recommended to reduce the risk of so many other diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and vascular disease, which of course all increase the risk of heart disease.
Although exercise and a healthy diet top this list, here are ten interventions you should take to protect your heart. Some will be familiar and serve as a good reminder, and others will surprise you. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take the best care of yourself. Start by strengthening the most important muscle in your body, your heart.
Follow a consistent exercise program and eat a heart-healthy diet. If you need help, talk to your doctor, hire a personal trainer, and/or enlist the services of a registered dietitian or wellness coach. Do whatever it takes.
Lose excess weight safely, which means slowly. Maintaining healthy body weight is known to reduce the risk of heart disease. However, repeatedly fast diets, very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs), cleansing, and fasting have been shown to weaken the immune system and damage heart muscles, increasing the threat of developing heart disease.
Develop a strong circle of friends and loved ones and nurture those relationships. Studies have shown that people who lack a strong network of friends and family are at a higher risk of developing and dying from heart disease.
Have a good night and sleep. Researchers have found that people with chronic sleep deprivation increase their likelihood of developing heart disease. Aim for a minimum of seven hours a night.
Reduce your sodium intake by reading food labels and choosing items that are low in sodium. Avoiding the salt shaker will only make a small dent in your daily sodium intake since most of the salt we consume comes from the processed foods we buy. Consistently exceeding the recommended daily sodium threshold of 2,400 milligrams increases the danger of developing high blood pressure, often a precursor to heart disease.
Don’t smoke cigarettes or do everything in your power to quit if you do. Although we tend to associate smoking with lung problems and cancer, it also plays a role in cardiovascular disease. Smoking is one of the main causes of atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of fatty substances in the arteries. This narrowing results in a decrease in oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart muscle. Over time, if one or more of the arteries to the heart become completely blocked, a heart attack can occur.
Talk to your doctor about antioxidant vitamin supplements and/or baby aspirin as a defense against heart disease and heart attacks. However, no matter what your doctor may recommend, vitamins will not prevent the development of heart disease if you don’t control your other risk factors, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Learn and practice stress management skills. If you find yourself saying, “This stress is killing me!” you may not be exaggerating. Chronic stress has been linked to a lowered immune system and increased risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Daily meditation, exercise, journaling, and “me” time have been shown to significantly reduce the amount and intensity of daily stress.
Drink green tea and enjoy dark chocolate on Valentine’s Day or any other day. The antioxidants in green tea improve blood vessel function, and eating a small amount of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease.
Decrease daily negativity and increase your positivity. There are mountains of research showing that a host of negative emotions like anger and stress affect cardiovascular health, and positive emotions like joy, gratitude, and love boost our immune systems. By staying positive, you will not only make life more fun, but you will also take care of your heart.