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The choices you make today will impact your life tomorrow. This may sound like advice parents give their children, but it is especially true when it comes to taking care of your heart. While some risk factors for developing heart disease are beyond our control, such as age, race or family history, certain lifestyle choices we make in our 20s, 30s and 40s will definitely impact the quality of life in our 50s, 60s and 70s.
Heart disease does not develop overnight. It is a gradual, lifelong process that people cannot see or feel. Physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have all shown to influence the development and severity of heart disease. Fortunately, you can take steps now to prevent heart disease and enjoy a healthier life in the years to come.
Put out that cigarette.
People who smoke run twice the risk of having a heart attack as a non-smoker. There are more than 4,800 chemicals in tobacco smoke, including tar and nicotine. This toxic mixture can raise blood pressure, increase the tendency for blood to clot, harden the arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers.
Exercising 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week has shown to improve heart function, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, boost energy and help maintain a healthy weight. Walking is a good activity that is easy to incorporate into a daily routine. According to the American Heart Association, every hour spent exercising now can add about two hours to your life expectancy, even if you don’t start working out until middle age.
Eat a nutritious, healthy diet.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products should be the routine. Try to limit your intake of saturated fats (beef, butter, cheese or milk) and trans fats (deep fried foods, margarine or crackers), which can raise blood cholesterol levels. Adding fish, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, to your diet can help decrease the risk of heart attack, lower blood pressure and guard against irregular heartbeats.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Your heart has to work harder if you are overweight. You also have an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Waist measurements of more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women are considered indicators of being overweight. Exercise and good nutrition are the only ways to maintain a healthy weight, not fad diets or supplements.
Other steps you can take to prevent heart disease include limiting alcohol, being screened for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, reducing stress and managing diabetes, if you have the condition. Taking care of your heart now doesn’t mean a life of self-deprivation. Eat one more serving of fruit instead of chips. Take a walk after a meal instead of a nap. Heart disease may be the leading cause of death in the United States, but by adopting a healthy lifestyle today you may avoid heart problems in the future.