Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The daily stress of modern living combined with poor lifestyle choices places far too many people at risk of heart disease. There are several different types of health conditions that affect the heart including heart failure, hypertension, heart attack and more. Taking steps to keep your heart healthy can improve your quality of life and help prevent you from having a life-threatening health condition.
Healthy living is within your reach. Committing to a few important steps will make all the difference in keeping your heart health in check and preventing cardiovascular disease. Below, we’re sharing all about heart health and how you can keep your heart healthy in 2023.
Best Ways to Maintain Heart Health
There are many different causes of heart disease some of which are in your control (like lifestyle habits) and some that are not (like genetics). Even so, it is important to take steps to live a healthy lifestyle to help prevent heart disease and keep your heart healthy.
Exercising regularly is one of the best methods to support heart health. Your heart is a muscle and just like how lifting weights can strengthen your arm muscles, cardiovascular exercise (like running, biking and walking) helps to strengthen your heart muscle. Keeping the heart strong through exercise improves its ability to pump blood throughout the body. The American Heart Association recommends that adults exercise for about 20 minutes per day or 150 minutes per week.
One of the leading causes of heart disease is plaque buildup on the arteries due to high cholesterol levels. Eating a diet that is low in sugar, trans fat and saturated fats and rich in healthy fruits and vegetables can help to support your overall health and prevent certain cardiovascular diseases like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Smoking cigarettes causes damage to the heart and blood vessels. Even occasional cigarette smoking can cause issues. In addition to making heart disease more likely, smoking also harms other organs in the body like the lungs, eyes, mouth, bones and bladder. It can be hard to quit smoking since cigarettes are so addicting but with the right support, anyone can do it. Talk with your doctor about what your options are if you’re having a hard time quitting smoking.
Maintain a Healthy BMI
Over 40% of people in the United States are obese and many are overweight. Having excess weight on your body can cause your heart to have to work harder to pump blood to your body tissues. It can also lead to fatty material building up in the arteries as well. Maintaining a healthy BMI can help your heart pump better, lower blood pressure and potentially maintain healthy cholesterol levels as well.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation (or don’t drink at all)
Drinking too much alcohol can cause damage to the heart and vascular system. When you have alcohol in your system, it can cause a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. If you drink more than the recommended amount often, then it can cause ongoing increases in heart rate and blood pressure. The CDC recommends limiting alcohol consumption to 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women. Try replacing alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages like tea or kombucha.
Keep Stress Levels Low
Taking steps to properly manage your stress can help to improve your heart health and prevent heart disease. Poorly managed stress can lead to increased cortisol levels which can cause increases in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar. All of which can cause damage to the blood vessels and lead to heart disease over time.
Why is Heart Disease So Common?
Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1950. The main risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, smoking, diabetes and excessive alcohol usage. Although heart disease is not a new issue, modern lifestyle habits only seem to exacerbate this problem.
Many people lead busy lifestyles in which they spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk or driving to and from work. Hectic, over-packed schedules cause many people to choose cheap, unhealthy food out of convenience. Feelings of stress are common amongst most people which can cause increased blood pressure and lead to unhealthy eating for comfort. Poor diet choices raise cholesterol levels and so on.
Choosing to take steps to improve your heart health will benefit you immensely in the long run. Committing to taking small steps every day to improve your health can make all of the difference down the line. Start with small steps, like replacing unhealthy snacks with healthy ones, taking short breaks to meditate or going on a daily walk.
What is Heart Disease?
Your doctor may use the term “heart disease” to categorize several different conditions of the heart and vascular system. Some heart diseases are related to the heart muscle itself while others are a disease of the veins and arteries that are responsible for moving blood throughout the body.
Common heart diseases include:
- Coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Chest pain or angina
- Heart failure
- Congenital heart conditions
What is Coronary Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart problem affecting men and women in the United States. Coronary heart disease affects the coronary arteries which are the larger arteries of the heart that are responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
There are other types of heart disease that affect similar areas of the heart, such as coronary microvascular disease. Coronary microvascular disease affects the smaller arteries of the heart muscle, rather than the larger ones.
Causes of coronary heart disease vary depending on the exact parts of the heart that are affected. One common cause of coronary heart disease is high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can build up along the linings of the arteries. This buildup leads to blockages in blood flow throughout the body and can affect the coronary arteries. Most people can prevent this condition by following a healthy lifestyle.
Coronary artery disease often does not cause many symptoms. Most people don’t know that they have it until the disease has progressed to the point of causing chest pain due to a lack of blood flow to the heart. Coronary artery disease that is left untreated can lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
According to the American Heart Association, the best ways to prevent coronary heart disease are good nutrition, weight management and physical activity. It is important to attend regular checkups with your doctor and see a cardiologist if you have certain risk factors. Viral infections like COVID-19 can also lead to heart conditions so it is important to take steps to stay healthy and support your immune system.
Top Causes of Heart Attacks
A heart attack occurs when one of the major arteries supplying blood to the heart becomes completely blocked, cutting off oxygen supply to the heart. Some of the most common causes of heart attacks are listed below.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid that exists in the blood. Cholesterol levels help to evaluate overall heart health. Your cholesterol levels may become elevated as a result of diet and lifestyle or it could be from genetic causes.
High blood pressure
When your blood pressure becomes elevated, it can damage your arteries and make them less elastic. This can decrease the flow of blood to your heart and lead to heart disease and cause symptoms like chest pain.
A buildup of plaques in the arteries
A buildup of plaque in the arteries is a common cause of heart disease. This is also called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when substances like cholesterol, fat and blood cells form a plaque substance that builds up in the arteries. This build-up can block blood flow and worsen over time.
When a person is overweight, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to all of the tissues of the body. Additionally, excess weight leads to plaque buildup on the arteries which can cause them to become damaged and clogged. People who are overweight are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes which can also cause damage to the heart and blood vessels over time.
Smoking or secondhand smoke
Cigarette smoke can cause plaque to form on the blood vessels which can lead to heart conditions like coronary heart disease. When the large blood vessels of the heart become completely clogged, a heart attack can occur. Quitting smoking can be hard but it is entirely worth the work since it will improve your overall health and potentially add years to your life.
Trans fat is found in foods like packaged baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and fried food. Eating trans fat can raise LDL cholesterol levels (or the bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol levels (or the good cholesterol). High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease since LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Heart disease is becoming more and more common throughout the world. Luckily, there are plenty of easy steps you can take to keep your heart health in check. Having a trusted healthcare provider and cardiologist can help you put your health first and find the best solutions to support your heart health. UCF Health has top-notch cardiologists who take natural methods of healing into consideration to help patients find their best treatment approach.
Take steps to live a healthy lifestyle and talk with your doctor about what more you can do to best support your heart health so that you can thrive and live your best life.