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Preventing Heart Disease

Risk factors you can control

Tobacco use: The chemicals in tobacco cause damage to the artery walls by increasing your blood pressure and making your heart work harder. This damage allows plaque to adhere to the artery wall – blocking blood flow and potentially leading to a heart attack. Smoking is the worst thing you can do to your heart. Your doctor can help you find a way to quit through medications or other programs.

High blood pressure: When your blood pressure is high, it exerts more pressure on the artery walls and causes damage. Blood pressure can be controlled through diet, exercise, and medications. Decreasing your sodium intake to 2000 -2400 mg a day and exercising five or more times a week are recommended to control high blood pressure. Medication may also be prescribed, but should not be a substitute for making lifestyle changes.

High cholesterol levels: Too much cholesterol in the arteries builds up in the form of plaque, decreasing the amount of blood flow. Cholesterol can be controlled by eating a diet low in fat and trans fat.

Being overweight/lack of exercise: If you are overweight, your heart has to work harder – increasing your risks for high blood pressure. Reducing the amount of calories you eat each day by eating low fat, low calorie foods will help reduce this risk.

Exercising helps you burn calories, lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and can help control diabetic blood sugar levels. Aerobic activities like swimming, biking, brisk walking, or jogging are recommended for at least 30 minutes a day 5 to 6 times a week. You should always see your doctor before starting an exercise program if you haven’t exercised in a while.

Poor stress management: Too much stress can cause your body to release chemicals that make your heart work harder. This can also cause an increase in blood pressure. Healthy ways you can manage your stress are through exercise, meditation, listening to music, or any relaxation technique that works for you.

Diabetes: Having high blood sugar can damage arteries. It is important to follow a meal plan, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and control your blood sugar with medications if needed.

Important note: Many people may not have any symptoms until they have a heart attack. If you have one or more of these risk factors, see your doctor regularly. Early detection can help to reduce risk factors by getting the prescribed treatment needed.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of force that blood exerts against artery walls as it moves through your body. If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), your blood is exerting too much force on your artery walls.

When your blood pressure is taken, two measurements are recorded. You may be told your blood pressure is 110 over 70.

The top number (systolic pressure) is the measurement of pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls during your hearts contraction. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) is the measurement of pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls during your heart’s relaxation. You may be considered hypertensive if you consistently have a systolic pressure of 140 or higher and a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher.

Treatment for Blood Pressure

Treatment for your blood pressure should begin with lifestyle changes:

  • Changing your diet
  • Lowering weight
  • Exercising
  • Stopping tobacco use
  • Managing stress
  • Managing diabetes

Changing Your Diet

Decrease your salt intake. Try seasoning foods with low or no sodium seasonings. Cook with fresh meats and vegetables instead of canned or frozen packed foods. You should also limit foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats since these foods contribute to excess weight gain. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can also raise blood pressure and damage your heart.

Lowering Weight and Exercising

Being overweight contributes to hypertension. You should cut back on high fat and high calorie foods, control your portions, decrease your total caloric intake, and exercise regularly in order to lose weight. Aerobic exercise helps to lower blood pressure. You should work up to exercising for at least 30 minutes 5 to 6 times a week to gain any benefits.

Stopping Tobacco Use

Tobacco use causes narrowing of blood vessels which raises your blood pressure. If you stop using tobacco products you can significantly lower your blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease.

Managing Your Stress

Your body releases chemicals that can raise blood pressure as a result of stress. By managing your stress in a healthy way such as using relaxation techniques, exercising, or meditating you can decrease your blood pressure.

Managing Your Diabetes

Increased blood sugar levels increase the risk of high blood pressure. Keeping your diabetes under strict control will decrease your risk of high blood pressure.

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help lower your blood pressure. It may take time to find the right medication and dosage for you, but you should not stop taking or decrease your medication without talking to your doctor first. And remember that taking medication in not a substitution for a healthy lifestyle.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance called lipids. Cholesterol is produced by your body, mostly in the liver. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function normally but excess cholesterol can build up in your blood vessels and block blood flow to vital organs causing a heart attack or stroke.

Lipoproteins are bundles of fat and protein that circulate cholesterol through your blood stream. LDL and HDL are the most common forms of lipoproteins. Your LDL travels through your blood and is used by your cells. LDL is called “bad cholesterol” because the LDL that is not used by your cells stays in your blood stream and builds up to eventually block arteries.

HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it carries some of the excess LDL back to the liver to be disposed of. Triglycerides are another type of fat that your body uses for energy. Higher levels of triglycerides contribute to higher levels of LDL.

A diet rich in fats, sugar, and alcohol can increase the triglyceride levels in your blood. Your liver may be the major producer of cholesterol, but the food you eat also plays a role in your overall cholesterol levels. Meats, dairy products, and any other foods that come from animals contain cholesterol and saturated fats. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as fast foods, processed foods, and desserts. A diet rich in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat can increase your “bad cholesterol.

Diet and Exercise

Being overweight is related to higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Committing to a long-term change in eating habits and exercise is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. Decreasing your intake of cholesterol, fats, and sugar while increasing fiber intake can lead to a healthy diet. Exercise will help to get your weight at a healthy level, increase your HDL (good cholesterol), and improve your cardiovascular health. Gradually increase your exercise level to being physically active 5 to 6 times per week, for at least 30 minutes each time.

Take Your Medication

Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol lowering medication if maintaining a healthy diet and exercising does not lower your cholesterol. Taking medication should not be viewed as a substitute for healthy lifestyle changes. You should never cut back or stop taking your medication without consulting with your doctor.

Final Words of Advice

Learn what cholesterol is and how you can control it. Use what you learn to make yourself and your loved ones more heart healthy.