Your heart has the massive and critical task of pumping blood throughout your entire body, at the rate of 2,000 gallons a day, and it’s only the size of your hands clasped together! Considering the essentialness of the heart, it would only make sense that we do everything within our power to keep it strong and healthy. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and affects nearly 18 million individuals. Equally alarming is that an estimated 90% of heart disease cases are preventable. This makes heart disease both highly prevalent and highly preventable meaning you have the power to prevent heart disease through your lifestyle choices.
A Lifestyle Disease
There are both modifiable and nonmodifiable risk factors for heart disease. The nonmodifiable risk factors are those that we have no control over like age but there are also modifiable risk factors, which are the things we can control and change. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the leading modifiable risk factors for heart disease as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoking cigarettes
- Unhealthy diet
- Physically inactive
- Overweight or obesity
All of these risk factors are behaviors and habits associated with the way you live, which is why heart disease is considered a lifestyle disease. There are many changes you can make to your lifestyle, starting today, that will have an immediate impact on your heart health. Lifestyle is especially important in reference to heart disease because heart disease can go unnoticed until you experience a heart attack or other cardiac event. Your greatest defense against experiencing a cardiac event and preventing heart disease is through a combination of a healthy diet, regular physical activity and healthy weight management. These factors will also help prevent the development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, offering you the best defense against the “silent killer.”
Start Where You Are
Before you read any further it is important to keep in mind where you are starting at, today. Have you come to the realization that over time you have adapted a way of living that doesn’t promote health and longevity? Perhaps you have been almost completely sedentary over the past couple of years. Maybe you aren’t meeting the physical activity guidelines, or your diet has been suffering and so has your waistline. Work on one habit at a time with long term success as the goal.
Maintain a Healthy Weight & Body Composition
By maintaining a healthy body weight, you are also decreasing your risk of developing additional risk factors for heart disease like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. In fact, being overweight is one of the main risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke and the earlier the onset, the greater the risk. Not only is weight important but where you carry excess weight or fat is just as important. Excess weight in the abdominal region or your midsection is a risk factor for heart disease regardless of your weight or BMI. A waist circumference greater than 35 inches for females and 40 inches for males is considered a risk factor for heart disease. Keep in mind that 35 inches and 40 inches are cutoffs for increased risk of disease development. You don’t want to bump up against that line. Aim to keep your waist circumference a couple of inches below the cut off markers for a truly healthy waistline. If you are concerned about your waist circumference, share your number with your primary care physician for further guidance.
Physical Activity & Time Sedentary
Two of the leading modifiable risk factors for heart disease are a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity. These two terms sound the same, but they are referring to two different but equally important lifestyle factors for preventing heart disease. You are considered physically inactive if you don’t meet the weekly physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, aerobic exercise and at least 2 strength training workouts each week. Also, you can meet these guidelines but if you spend a substantial part of your day sedentary you are still at an increased risk of heart disease.
A good goal is to get in at least 30 minutes of movement each day. This includes your random, spontaneous movement throughout the day when you walk down the hall, do chores, grocery shop, cook etc. This form of movement is referred to as NEAT, Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis. Many of us have eliminated most opportunities for movement from our daily lives. We have established habits and routines that prioritize time and convenience over health and movement. Take a look at your day-to-day routine and identify opportunities where you can add movement back into your life. What tasks can do yourself instead of outsourcing or what moments of down time or waiting do you have where you can get in movement or stretch. Create opportunities to move more because exercise and movement are nonnegotiable for heart health!
If you need some guidance on creating a heart healthy lifestyle, we got you covered! Join us for one of our live workshops where we take a deeper look at lifestyle behaviors, how they impact our heart health and what we can do it.