Heart Health: 9 Science-Backed Ways To Protect Your Ticker
According to a recent research letter published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, there seems to be an increase in heart-failure-related cardiovascular death rates amongst younger adults (aged 35 to 64) over the last decade.
Additionally, a separate study from the month of February revealed that younger American women are having more heart attacks (1).
Regarding the above-mentioned factors, the concern for cardiovascular health has increased. As a result, a revised set of guidelines on the best ways to protect heart health have been issued.
Updated heart health guidelines
Issued by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA), the revised guidelines are set to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping doctors identify risk factors so that patients can protect their health by changing their lifestyle habits.
“It’s important for people to realize that more than 80% of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral arterial disease events are preventable, so early recognition of risk factors is important,” says Dr. Roger Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and co-chair of the ACC/AHA Prevention Writing Committee. “We want people to realize that it’s not rocket science on most of these things. It’s good common sense. And for doctors, it’s about motivating people when they come in for each and every visit — no matter what they come in to see us for.”
For co-author Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of cardiology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the growing rates of heart disease and heart attacks may be linked to increased rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes cases.
That said, the new guidelines were introduced to address risk factors for heart disease.
The guidelines will not only serve to curb the risk of heart disease, but they will also help in improving general health by bettering one’s lifestyle habits.
1. Acknowledge a patient’s environment
In an effort to better understand the external factors that may influence one’s health, the revised guidelines encourage doctors to engage more in regards to their patients’ social environments. In doing so, they may be able to help them address any hurdles that are preventing them from living a healthy lifestyle.
For one, a patient may have trouble finding healthy food due to lack of access to stores that provide healthy foods. They may also have difficulty preparing these foods due to lack of funds. There is also the possibility that they avoid exercising because they do not have space for it anywhere.
“If you want to change the risk for a patient, you cannot do that without the patient being front and center,” says Dr. Vera Bittner, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who provided text to accompany the new guidelines. “So you need to take the patient’s circumstances, as well as his values and goals into account when you design a prevention strategy. It’s a more rational approach to the care paradigm.”
2. Consume a healthy diet
One cannot emphasize the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet when it comes to protecting your cardiovascular health.
That said, which eating style is best when it comes to heart health and general well being? Some may praise the Mediterranean diet, while others would opt for more vegetarian eating plans. However, the premise remains the same. Both of these diets and other popular and effective healthy diets have certain similarities that each contributes to one’s longevity.
For one, they encourage a diet that is rich in both vegetables and fruits. This is because both of these food groups, particularly vegetables, are rich in plant-based antioxidants known as phytonutrients. These compounds are effective at fighting off free radicals, and in doing so, they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other similarities include staying clear of added sugars, processed foods, and trans fats. Instead, they encourage you to consume whole grains and healthy fats.
Whole grains are free of ingredients that may increase your risk of obesity and diabetes. Rather, they provide the body with a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. Healthy fats, unlike trans fats, are the good fats that your body and your heart will thank you for. These fats are called unsaturated fats, and they refer to both polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) and monounsaturated fats (omega-9). These two fats are incredibly effective at protecting cardiovascular health and can be found in extra virgin olive oil, avocados, walnuts, salmon, chia seeds and pistachios.
3. Don’t use e-cigarettes
Smoking is a debilitating habit that no one should be partaking in. What’s more, quitting smoking can have incredible effects on your body. In addition to lowering your risk of lung disease and failure, putting out your last cigarette can improve your cardiovascular health. It can also improve your fertility and even your mental health.
However, many individuals who are quitting traditional tobacco smoking are now opting for e-cigarettes. They believe them to be a healthier alternative, yet this cannot be further from the truth. According to various studies, e-cigarettes may add extra cardiovascular stress, harm your DNA, and even your blood vessels.
That said, the revised guidelines suggest that smokers do not use e-cigarettes as a quitting technique. Rather, they would rather have them opt for nicotine replacement patches, gums or even medication.
4. Keep your blood pressure low
According to the guidelines, it’s important to keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg with 120 representing the pressure at its maximum as the heart contracts (systolic pressure), and the 80 showing the minimum as the muscle releases (diastolic pressure). High blood pressure is considered to be higher than 130/90mmHg, which is often referred to as hypertension. There is also hypotension, which refers to low blood pressure and the readings often sit around 100/60mmHg, yet some readings may even reach 90/60mmHg.
One way to avoid high blood pressure is by managing your stress levels and staying active. Additionally, enjoying foods such as beet juice, cayenne pepper and even organic, dark chocolate can help to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
5. Maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a diet rich in vegetables, grains, and legumes and free of added sugar and processed foods, as well as staying active, is an effective way to maintain a healthy body weight.
6. Manage Type II diabetes
As mentioned, type II diabetes is a contributing risk factor to heart disease. That said, it’s best to ensure that you don’t get the disease. However, if you do, controlling it needs to be of utmost priority.
Blood sugar helps to provide energy and it’s kept stabilized by the hormone insulin. However, a drop in insulin can lead to insulin resistance and then this increases your risk of developing diabetes.
In already diabetic patients, the way to control blood sugar is often done through the use of medication. The revised guidelines suggest the use of medications such as SGLT-2 inhibitors, which prevent the body’s cells from reabsorbing glucose. They also suggest GLP-1R agonists, which burn off more glucose in muscle cells. It also encourages the pancreas to produce more insulin to break down blood sugar.
Another way to manage your blood sugar would be to consume foods that help to stabilize blood sugar levels. These include almonds, blueberries, broccoli, garlic, and spinach.
7. Monitor HDL and LDL cholesterol levels
HDL (high-density lipoproteins) cholesterol is referred to as good cholesterol. This is because it helps to prevent the build-up of excess cholesterol in the bloodstream. It does this by transporting it to the liver, who then helps remove it from the body. In doing so, HDL cholesterol helps to protect cardiovascular health. LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol, on the other hand, encourages the build-up of cholesterol in the arteries. This then increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
If you’re living a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a nutritious diet and staying active, then your cholesterol levels are likely to be healthy.
8. Only use aspirin when appropriate
In the past, individuals were often encouraged to take low-dose daily aspirin as a way to lower inflammation and prevent cases of cardiovascular disease and even cancer (2). However, recent studies have revealed that, even in low doses, the daily taking of aspirin isn’t all that great for your health.
The study did not notice any obvious benefits for healthy seniors, and it also noted that taking a daily aspirin may increase the risk of internal bleeding (3).
Having said that, the new guidelines recommended that individuals only take aspirins per the doctor’s orders.
9. Stay active
If you want to protect your health, eating a healthy diet isn’t enough. It’s important that you lead some form of an active lifestyle. Hence, the new guidelines recommend that people should opt for either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. In doing so, they’ll not only maintain a healthy weight but they’ll also help to keep their blood pressure down. It should also be noted that exercise can help to improve mental health as well.
If you’re still not convinced, a study published in JAMA Network Open found that even light physical activity can help to reduce the risk of overall heart problems by up to a 64%. Moreover, a separate study published in the journal Circulation found that for those who face a high genetic risk for heart disease, living an active lifestyle can lower their risk of heart disease by 49%.
Therefore, don’t feel afraid to take a walk, a cycling class or even a tai chi class three times a week.
The bottom line
Heart disease is still the number one leading cause of death worldwide (4). This fact is quite ironic when you consider how preventative the disease is.
It’s imperative that we do everything in our power to protect our heart health. Thus, with the above-mentioned suggestions in mind, it’s clear that the task at hand isn’t that difficult to accept.
Duncan Carmichael M.D. has written a perfect story on how our bad health can create the perfect heart attack. You can read this fascinating insight here