With nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population expected to have cardiovascular disease by 2020, our nation is at a crossroads, says Asimul Ansari MD, of the
TriHealth Heart Institute
. "We have this huge population at risk and we have to find the higher risk people so we can stave off a cardiac event, like a heart attack."
Dr. Ansari says preventing heart disease and other cardiac issues takes a cultural shift toward a healthier society; however, there are lifestyle changes you can start making now.
Guidelines vary by health status, but if you're healthy overall, you should be able to safely exercise five or six days a week, at a moderately intense level for 20 to 30 minutes. Talk to your doctor about how much - and what kind of - activity is safe for you.
#2 Watch Your Diet (Quantity and Quality)
Typically, when you look at food labels, serving sizes and nutritional information are provided based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but "that's probably more calories than required," Dr. Ansari points out.
He suggests educating yourself on your own calorie intake, noting what foods you're currently eating, and then talking to your doctor, who can make recommendations based on your current weight and activity level.
When it comes to what you should be eating, you can't go wrong with the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and healthy oils. "Following this diet has as much effect, potentially, as a taking a cholesterol medication," he adds.
#3 Keep Your Stress Levels in Check
Chronic stress often leads to other unhealthy behaviors, like eating a poor diet, not getting enough sleep, and skipping exercise, which can spiral into heart problems over time.
Stress can also have a direct impact on your heart by raising blood pressure, causing inflammation and increasing cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
Additionally, extreme stress can make your heart beat out of rhythm.
Make time each day for stress-reducing activities, including:
- Practicing yoga or meditation
- Spending time outdoors in nature
- Getting regular exercise
- Spending time with friends
- Escaping with a movie or a good book
#4 If You Smoke, Stop
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing a variety of chronic disorders, which include fatty buildups in the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Studies also show that smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack, reports the
American Heart Association
If you're a smoker or are exposed to smoke, your risk for heart problems may be three times greater than that of people who don't smoke. Once you quit, however, your risk of having a heart attack decreases over time.