Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States. Heart disease does not just occur overnight. Changes in the body that lead to heart disease take years to develop.
One of the biggest risk factors of heart disease is high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a type of plaque that thickens and hardens your arteries. This constricts blood flow to the heart muscle and can even completely block the arteries.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL, which is also known as the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, which is also known as the “good” cholesterol. LDL is the cholesterol responsible for plaque buildup and blockage in your arteries. HDL cholesterol helps lower the bad cholesterol in your arteries. It is important to get your cholesterol levels checked regularly. If you are at high risk due to genetics, you might need to start getting your cholesterol checked at a young age. Usually a rule of thumb is to have your levels checked every 5 years after the age of 20, if your level is desirable.
Desirable Level: Less than 200 mg/dl
Borderline: 200-239 mg/dl
High: 240mg/dl and above
Lifestyle plays a key role in the prevention of heart disease. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and obesity are all risk factors to heart disease. It is important to make healthy lifestyle changes in order to prevent coronary artery disease.
Choose a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat. No more than 20 grams of saturated fat for men and 15 grams for women per day. No more than 300mg/dl of cholesterol per day. Saturated fat is the number one factor that increases cholesterol. Some examples of food that contain saturated fat are:
· High fat dairy products
· High fat meats
· Cream Sauces
· Palm oil
· Coconut oil
Trans fat is also known as hydrogenated oil. It is important to read food labels to see if hydrogenated oil is a main ingredient. Select foods that either do not contain hydrogenated oil or where a liquid oil is listed first in the ingredient list. Some examples of food that contain trans fat include:
· Processed foods like cookies, chips and baked goods that contain hydrogenated oil
· Some stick margarines
· Some fast food such as French fries
Increase monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are known as the healthy fats since they can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Some examples of food that contain monounsaturated fats are:
· Canola oil
· Nuts such as almonds and peanuts
· Olive oil
· Peanut butter
Some examples of food that contain polyunsaturated fats are:
· Corn oil
· Soybean oil
· Sunflower oil
· Sunflower seeds
· Soft tub margarine
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Frozen, fresh and canned are all good. Be sure to consume a variety so you are able to get all the health benefits they provide.
Increase your intake of fiber. Fiber had been shown to lower cholesterol. Aim for 25-30 grams per day. Fiber can be found in many fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain products. Be sure to increase hydration in order to help fiber pass more easily through your digestive system.
Aim for two 3oz servings of fish per week. Salmon is especially good since it contains heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce both stroke and heart disease.
Select fat free or low fat dairy products.
Limit salt intake since it can cause high blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease.
Inactivity leads to weight gain, which can lead to a variety of diseases. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. This will help increase your HDLs. It will also help to decrease blood pressure and strengthen your heart.
Three 10-minute sessions per day is just as beneficial as one 30 minute session. Do what works for your schedule. If you are new to exercise try just taking a daily walk. Any little bit counts!
Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease as well as many other diseases. Here are some guidelines to keep your weight in check:
1. Control your portions
2. Increase your physical activity to 60 minutes per day
3. Follow the above healthy eating guidelines
4. Plan meals for the week so your less likely to grab convenient, non- healthy foods
5. Don’s skip meals. This slows down your metabolism which can lead to further weight gain
Smoking has been shown to increase blood pressure and decrease healthy cholesterol levels. If going cold turkey seems too hard, at least try to cut back. Even reducing the amount of cigarettes you smoke can make a difference.
It is important to know your family medical history. If heart disease is in your family it is important to speak to your doctor and maintain regular checkups
Remember healthy habits are important not only for your heart but your overall wellbeing. Small steps everyday can lead to a much healthier lifestyle.
Always remember to consult with your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.