The statistic is sad but true. Half of American adults have cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, heart failure, or stroke. Nearly 600,000 people die from heart disease each year. That's one out of every four deaths in the United States.
Furthermore, did you know the majority of diabetics die from cardiovascular disease? That's right. Heart disease, not blood sugar complications, is the number one cause of death for diabetics.
There is hope, however. The American Heart Association tells us that 8 out of every 10 cases of cardiovascular disease can be prevented. Controlling diabetes, cholesterol levels and blood pressure were found to be the key factors in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
So, how do we improve heart health right now? It’s simple, we must change our habits in order to see results. By making the right adjustments to our eating, exercise and lifestyle habits, we’ll be heart healthy in no time!
Nutrition is a huge part of heart health. By fueling our bodies with the right foods, we can greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Don’t worry, there are plenty of heart healthy, delicious foods to choose from.
Inflammation in the body can lead to a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Sweet and spicy cinnamon contains anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon also helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, while keeping HDL cholesterol levels stable. Cinnamon also helps to reduce blood pressure levels. These two benefits combine to decrease risk for heart disease and stroke. As an added bonus, cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels, too!
The high omega-3 fatty acid content in cold-water fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel can help to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This in turn, helps to balance your blood sugar levels, and reduce risk of heart disease.
The antioxidants found in green tea help prevent against free radical damage to the body’s cells. This lowers risk for a host of diseases from heart disease to cancer. Research also links drinking tea to a reduced risk of stroke due to high cholesterol. Studies have found that individuals who drink 12 ounces or more of tea every day are half as likely to suffer a heart attack as individuals who do not drink tea.
Our next heart healthy treat may actually be the perfect food – the avocado! Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy fats and are also high in fiber. Avocados have been shown to reduce risk of hypertension, stroke, obesity, and other diseases. Consuming foods with high fiber content has also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, along with lowering and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Most of us have heard about the heart-healthy benefits of red wine. When consumed in moderation, red wine raises levels of good cholesterol and lowers risk of heart diseases and stroke. For individuals who do not drink alcohol, grape juice offers many of the same benefits. The flavonoids present in red grapes help fight cardiovascular diseases, and procyanidins help to keep blood vessels healthy.
After you’ve enjoyed a heart healthy meal, it’s time to get moving. There is no denying it, exercise is absolutely essential to achieving and maintaining heart health. Regular physical activity lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, and helps control cholesterol levels. In other words, a fantastic recipe for reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.
Regular physical activity contributes nearly countless positive effects on your health, especially for those with diabetes. It helps your body make the best use of insulin and glucose, which controls blood sugar more effectively. Exercise lowers blood sugar levels and can keep them down for 24 hours after you finish working out.
Exercise also helps to strengthen muscles and bones, along with burning extra body fat. It’s a great way to boost energy levels and reduce stress, too! Research has shown that even a short walk each day can make a major difference in your health.
Most of our minds conjure images of bodybuilders in the gym, the epitome of human physiological excellence. Don’t let the “muscle-building” aspect intimidate you. Find a form of exercise you enjoy, even if it’s not in the gym! Swimming, walking, and riding a bike are all great ways to keep moving. Our next heart healthy tip may be the most important one of all.
Research has found that smoking is the single most powerful factor in determining life expectancy. It’s simple – smokers simply do not live as long as non-smokers do. Smoking is not a healthy habit for anyone, but diabetics are at increased risk of suffering smoking’s dangerous effects. Research has found that A1C levels rise with repeated exposure to nicotine. Long-term elevated blood sugar levels increase the risk of serious complications like kidney failure, heart attack, or stroke.
Making changes for heart health may seem intimidating, even overwhelming. Those changes are necessary though, and more than worth the effort. Talk to your healthcare team about more ways to prevent cardiovascular disease. Protecting our hearts is crucial to living the long, healthy lives we all hope for.
Stephanie Johnson has a master's degree from the University of Central Florida and is a Certified Nutrition & Wellness Consultant.