Heart Disease: Tips and Tricks to Address Risk Factors
Cassandra Slater, BA, CPST, CHES
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, someone dies from cardiovascular disease (CVD) ever 38 seconds, with American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Black (non-Hispanic) individuals making up the majority of the deaths (CDC).
The good news is that the risk factors associated with CVD can be managed by making positive personal choices about diet and exercise. Tips and tricks to address the risk factors of heart disease include:
Focus on a heart-healthy diet. The amount of calories you need to maintain your weight may differ depending on your age, gender, and level of physical activity. A heart-healthy diet is one based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Avoid buying highly processed foods that are low in nutrients. These are typically calorie heavy and can cause weight gain. If you are looking for affordable ways to buy fresh fruit, attend farmers markets. Most vendors at farmers market accept SNAP/EBT benefit cards, so you can get more bang for your buck.
Lead an active lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Whether an exercise is determined “vigorous” or “moderate” depends on your own fitness level. During a moderate exercise, you should feel out of breath when attempting to speak while working out, but speaking is possible. During a vigorous exercise, talking will likely be very difficult. Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular fitness, which lessens your chance of heart dis-ease.
Maintain a healthy weight. As a general rule, burn at least as many calories as you take in per day. This will lead you to maintain your weight. On the flip side, if you are trying to lose weight, burn more calories than you take in per day by exercising more often and eating lower calorie meals.
Consume alcohol in moderation. Regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol increases the levels of fat in the blood, which causes fatty build up on the arterial walls. Once this build up completely obstructs the artery, blood flow is disrupted. When this blockage happens in a blood vessel supplying blood to the heart, a heart attack occurs. When this blockage happens in blood vessels in the brain, a stroke occurs. These are either debilitating or deadly conditions. The AHA’s recommendation is to talk to your doctor about your drinking habits. They can best instruct you on adjusting the amount of alcohol you consume.
Quit smoking. Nearly 20% of all CVD deaths are caused by smoking. Cigarette smoke contains roughly 7,000 chemicals. When these chemicals are inhaled, they cause damage to the cardiovascular system, known as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Smoking increases your risk of high blood pressure, strokes, and thickens your arterial walls, which causes blockage of blood, leading to stroke, heart attacks, and death. There are multiple FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies available on the market to help you quit.
American Heart Association (2017). “The American heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations”. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). “Heart Disease Facts”. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm; U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “How Smoking Affects Your Health”. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/how-smoking-affects-heart-health