Dr. Stan Headley, natural health consultant for Cypress Pharmacy
Maybe it’s because we want a magic pill, or we expect the recommendations for lifestyle changes to be different, but many of us are not very kind to our hearts.
Even as the word has gotten out in the past few decades about lifestyle changes anyone can make to have a healthier heart, heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
Nearly half of all premature deaths may be due to lifestyle choices, such as insufficient exercise, poor diet and smoking. These risk factors increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Putting aside risk factors for heart disease beyond our control such as age and family history, most of us can improve our heart health. And good lifestyle choices can help minimize hereditary and other risk factors. And there’s a bonus! When you make choices for heart health, your overall health benefits, too.
In a study analyzing over 55,000 people, favorable lifestyle habits such as not smoking, having a healthy weight, being active and eating a healthy diet lowered heart disease risk by nearly 50%.
Here are some lifestyle habits your heart (and body) will love.
- Stop smoking. Even if you have no other risk factors, smoking raises your risk of developing heart disease by two to four times, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Products such as gum and patches are available to help stop smoking.
- Eat healthier. Americans get more than half of their daily calories from ultra-processed food, increasing the risk of heart disease. Food consumption can impact other risk factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and weight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods.
- Control cholesterol. Too much bad cholesterol and not enough good can result in plaque building up and blocking the arteries. While genetics play a role, extra weight, physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes and excessive alcohol intake contribute to high cholesterol. High cholesterol often doesn’t have symptoms until a problem arises, so it’s important to have a blood test to reveal your levels. Medication can reduce cholesterol if diet and exercise do not.
- Get active. Research shows that 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep weight at a healthy level. A Harvard study found that watching TV for two hours a day increased the risk of developing heart disease by 15 percent! The good news? Being even a little more active is better than nothing. Taking at least 4,400 steps a day lowers your risk of death more than taking only 2,700 steps per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity puts you at risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes, all factors that heighten your risk of heart disease. Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and physical activity are the best way to maintain a healthy weight and have heart benefits of their own.
- Manage diabetes. More than 65 percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. If you have prediabetes, losing at least 7% of body weight and exercising 2.5 hours per week can reduce the risk of progressing to diabetes.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking too much can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy, increase triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. Moderate alcohol consumption, no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women, can provide some cardio benefits. A standard drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine of 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Studies have shown that some supplements like fish oil may help your heart health, but they can’t prevent heart disease. It’s important to consult your doctor or pharmacist about the benefits and possible risks of supplements. Because supplements are not regulated like medications, it’s important to purchase your supplements from a trusted source.
Sounds easy, right? Improving your health is not a one size fits all approach. It can be hard to make dietary and lifestyle changes, and it is easy to fall back into old habits. Ongoing support can help you commit to improved health.
Information on “Seven Powerful Ways to Strengthen Your Heart Naturally,” is the topic of Seminar Saturday, Feb. 8. The free public seminar will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. at Cypress Pharmacy, 9451 Cypress Lake Drive in Fort Myers.