By now, it’s hard to imagine anyone arguing against the importance of heart health. But what seems a little fuzzier is how one achieves a healthy heart. While engaging in aspirin therapy or popping statins may lure some into a false sense of heart security, studies show that these Band-Aid solutions don’t hit heart health at its…well, heart.
A 2015 study revealed that a healthy lifestyle may be the key to heart-disease prevention in nearly 75 percent of women. In the study, 92 percent of women who demonstrated six healthy lifestyle habits had a decreased risk of heart disease. They are as follows:
>> 1. SMOKING CESSATION
Smoking is one of the primary causes of heart disease, as well as causing atherosclerosis (clogging of arteries). Studies show that just one year after you quit smoking, risk of coronary heart disease decreases by 50 percent. If you stop smoking now and follow the next five steps, you will significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and feel healthier with each passing day.
>> 2. EXERCISE
More than 2.5 hours of physical activity weekly (30 minutes daily) is not only beneficial for the heart, but for all organ systems. This does not necessarily mean organized exercise. Even physical activity around the house, including cleaning and cooking or outside the house, such as shopping for groceries and doing errands can provide benefit. Of course, exercise is the best and most consistent way to achieve this goal, with aerobic exercise being the best for the heart, although stretching and anaerobic (weight) exercise can help as well. However, too much exercise can actually overexert your heart, so don’t overdo it.
>> 3. HEALTHY DIET
You’ve heard it many times before; just like exercise, a healthy diet helps prevent heart disease. Processed, fried, and fast food all accelerate the atherosclerotic process. Processed meats (cured, salted, fermented, or smoked) can double the risk of all-cause death, but non-processed meat has minimal effects if not eaten every day and not in large amounts (4 to 6 ounces at one time or 18 ounces per week total).
Fruits and vegetables are beneficial, especially because they contain fiber, which may actually benefit women more than men. Every 7g increase in dietary fiber significantly lowers risk for heart disease. Barley and oats also decrease the risk.
One meal per week of cold-water fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, salmon, cod, trout, or halibut can reduce the risk by half, and a handful of nuts can decrease mortality from heart disease. Any nut can be beneficial, but a particular study has demonstrated this effect with almonds.
>> 4. NORMAL BODY-MASS INDEX
Obesity significantly predisposes you to heart disease, so a normal body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 decreases risk. However, BMI has some downsides, so a normal waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) should also be a goal. Those people with a “pear” shape (more fat around the buttocks, hips, and thighs) have a lower risk than an “apple” shape (more abdominal or belly fat; this reflects more fat around the abdominal organs). There are several heart diets that can prevent and reduce heart disease, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), the USDA Food Pattern, and the American Heart Association (AHA) diets.
>> 5. LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE
Your weekly intake of alcohol should average less than or equal to one alcoholic drink a day which is defined as 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer. Red wine is slightly better than white wine due to added antioxidants, but the difference is not substantial.
>> 6. LIMIT TV TIME
Set a goal to watch less than 7 hours of TV per week. A new syndrome has recently been described, called “sitting disease.” In a 2015 study, it was noted that people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40-percent increased risk of death in the next three years. Unfortunately, even exercising does not reverse this. If you do sit for long periods of time, including using your computer or watching TV, walk around during commercials or stand up while you are watching. Better yet, break out your dumbbells or hop on a stationary exercise bike. If you sit for long periods at work, get an elevated computer and stand while you work.
Not all of these steps are easy to accomplish, but certainly all six of these steps will put you on the road towards better heart health. Even partially attaining these goals will decrease your risk of heart disease. Get started today!