According to the World Health Organization, as many as 80% of all heart attacks and strokes are preventable. The majority of deaths due to CVD are precipitated by risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or diabetes, which can, to a large extent, be prevented or controlled through the consumption of a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding tobacco. Keeping an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels is also very important.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart and circulation system. A healthy diet should include a wide variety of unprocessed and fresh foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions every day), whole grains, nuts and foods low in saturated fats, sugars and salt. Be wary of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt, and drink lots of water!
It only takes 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, five days a week, to improve and maintain your health. Adults (aged 18-65) and seniors (65+) should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity physical activity, every week. Children and adolescents should do at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day.
Try to make exercise a regular part of your life: use the stairs instead of the lift, get off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way. Being active is also a great way to relieve stress and control your weight, which are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Maintain a healthy body weight
Lowering your risk of overweight and obesity normally involves reducing the number of calories consumed from fats and sugars, increasing the portion of daily intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and exercising regularly. At least 60 minutes of exercise most days a week will help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Avoid tobacco use
If you stop smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease will be halved within a year and will return to a normal level over time. Avoid smoke-filled environments: exposure to second-hand smoke significantly increases the risk of heart attack. All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. If you’re having trouble quitting tobacco, talk to your doctor about developing a tailored plan to suit your needs.
As with tobacco, there is no safe level for drinking alcohol, and the detrimental effects of alcohol far outweigh any potential protective benefits. While drinking less may reduce your risk of CVD, evidence shows that the ideal situation for health is to not drink at all. Even moderate drinkers notice health benefits when they stop drinking alcohol.
Stress can cause the arteries to tighten, which can increase the risk of heart disease, especially in women. Exercising, deep breathing, relaxing your muscles and making time for the things you love are some things you can do to help manage your stress levels. If things are starting to feel out of hand, don’t be afraid to talk to someone or seek professional help.
Know your numbers
Knowing your numbers is an important part of keeping your heart healthy. Checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels on a regular basis is important to help determine and control your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Know your blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the biggest causes of heart attack and stroke. It usually has no symptoms, so it’s important to get it regularly checked and, if needed, take the necessary measures to lower it, which may include dietary changes, increased physical activity, and medication.
- Know your cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in your blood also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Blood cholesterol can normally be controlled through a healthy diet and, if necessary, by appropriate medications.
- Know your blood sugar: Having diabetes, or high blood sugar, increases increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes, so it’s important to know your numbers and take any necessary precautions to control your blood sugar if your doctor prescribes it.
Take your medication as prescribed
If you have a higher risk of developing heart disease or stroke, you may need to take medication to reduce your risk. These can include statins to lower blood cholesterol levels, low-dose aspirin to prevent blood clots, insulin for diabetes and tablets to reduce blood pressure. Take the medication that your doctor has prescribed and make sure you stick to your regiment.
Know the warning signs
The sooner assistance is sought, the greater the chances of a full recovery.