The article was compiled by Dr. G. M. Siddiqui, M.D
CEO, Medical Services, Lifeline Healthcare.
Why Should You Care?
Heart disease is the #1 killer of both women and men. It affects many people at midlife, as well as in old age. The good news is that you have a lot of power to protect and improve your heart health. This article will help you find out your own risk of heart disease and take steps to prevent it.
What can you do to reduce your personal risk of heart disease?
First, you can learn about your own risk factors.
Second, you can begin to make healthful changes in your diet, physical activity, and other daily habits.
What You Need To Know About Heart Disease
What Is Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease—often simply called heart disease—occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of plaque on the arteries’ inner walls. Plaque is the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. As plaque continues to build up in the arteries, blood flow to the heart is reduced. Heart disease can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack happens when an artery becomes totally blocked with plaque, preventing vital oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart. A heart attack can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Who is at Risk?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight, physical inactivity, and diabetes. Certain risk factors, such as getting older, menopause, family history of heart disease can’t be changed.
How Risk Works?
While each risk factor increases your risk of heart disease, having more than one risk factor is especially serious. That’s because risk factors tend to “gang up” and worsen each other’s effects.
To protect your heart, it is vital to make changes that address each and every risk factor you have. You can make the changes gradually, one at a time. But making them is very important.
What Else Affects Heart Disease?
Stress, Alcohol consumption, Sleep Apnea, Menopausal Hormone Therapy, Birth Control Pills, C-reactive protein (CRP). Homocysteine level, Lp(a) protein, etc.
C-reactive protein (CRP). High levels of CRP may indicate inflammation in the artery walls. Lifestyle changes—weight loss and regular physical activity—can often lower CRP.
Homocysteine. High blood levels of this amino acid may increase risk for heart disease. It may be possible to lower elevated levels of homocysteine by getting plenty of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 in your diet.
Lp(a) protein. This lipoprotein may make it easier for blood clots to form. Niacin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, may help to lower Lp(a) protein levels.
Rating Your Risk
Here is a quick quiz to find out if you have an increased risk for a heart attack. If you don’t know some of the answers, ask your health care provider.
● Do you smoke?
● Is your blood pressure 140/90 mmHg or higher; OR, have you been told by your doctor that your blood pressure is too high?
● Has your doctor told you that your LDL “bad” cholesterol is too high; that your total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or higher; OR, that your HDL “good” cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL?
● Has your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55; OR, has your mother or sister had one before age 65?
● Do you have diabetes OR a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or higher; OR, do you need medicine to control your blood sugar?
● For women: Are you over 55 years old?
● For men: Are you over 45 years old?
● Do you have a Body Mass Index score of 25 or more? (To find out, see page 27.)
● Do you get less than a total of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days?
● Has a doctor told you that you have angina (chest pains); OR, have you had a heart attack?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have a higher risk of having a heart attack.
Taking Charge: An Action Plan for Heart Health
Research shows that people can lower their heart disease risk enormously simply by adopting sensible health habits. It’s never too late to start protecting your heart health.
What does it mean to “lead a healthy lifestyle”?
Here are the basics: If you eat a nutritious diet, get regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, and stop smoking, you will help to keep your heart healthy.
Some people may need to take additional steps to prevent heart disease. Control Diabetes, Blood pressure, low cholesterol levels, etc.
A. Choose Healthy Foods
■ Choose a variety of grains daily; half of your daily grains should come from whole grains.
■ Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
■ Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
■ Choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugar.
■ Choose and prepare foods with little salt.
■ If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
■ Aim for a healthy weight.
■ Be physically active most days.
■ Balance the calories you take in with the calories you expend through physical activity.
■ Keep foods safe to eat.
B. Aim for a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, taking pounds off can reduce your chances of developing heart disease in several ways. First, losing weight will directly lower your risk. Second, weight loss can help to reduce a number of other risk factors for heart disease, as well as lower your risk for other serious conditions. Weight loss can help control diabetes, as well as reduce high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Reaching a healthy weight can also help you to sleep more soundly, experience less pain from arthritis, and have more energy to take part in activities you enjoy.
Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight—and keep it off—knows that it can be quite a challenge.
Here are some tips to help you succeed:
Eat for health. Choose a wide variety of low-calorie, nutritious foods in moderate amounts. Include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk, as well as fish, lean meat, poultry, or dry
beans. Choose foods that are low in fat and added sugars.
Watch calories To lose weight, most overweight people will need to cut 500 to 1,000 calories per day from their current diet.
Keep moving. Physical activity is key to successful, long-term weight loss. It can help you burn calories, trim extra fat from your waist, and control your appetite. It can also tone your muscles and increase aerobic fitness. Moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 days per week, helps people lose weight as effectively as more vigorous exercise.
Steer clear of fast food. A single meal from a fast food restaurant may contain as many calories as you need for a whole day! If you do eat at a fast food restaurant, choose salads and grilled foods, and keep portion sizes small.
Lock in your losses. After reaching your weight-loss goal, switch your efforts to keeping the weight off by continuing to eat a nutritious, lower calorie diet and getting regular physical activity.
Seven Secrets of Weight Management
- Start small. Many people set unrealistic goals for the amount of weight they want to lose. While you may choose to lose more weight later, keep in mind that this initial goal is both realistic and valuable.
- Set smart goals. It’s important to set goals that are specific, achievable, and “forgiving” (allow you to be less than perfect). “Walk 60 minutes, 5 days each week” is specific, achievable, and forgiving.
- Build on success. Rather than focusing on one big goal, choose a series of smaller goals that will bring you closer and closer to your larger goal.
- Reward yourself! Rewards that you control will encourage you to achieve your goals. For a reward to work well, choose something you really want, don’t put off giving it to yourself, and make it dependent on meeting a specific goal. It usually works better to give yourself frequent, small rewards for reaching short-term goals than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.
- Write it down. Regularly record what you do on your weight-loss program, such as your daily calorie intake and amount of physical activity, as well as changes in your weight. (Try to weigh yourself at the same time of day once or twice a week.)
- Know your triggers. To lose weight successfully, you’ll need to be aware of your personal eating “triggers.” These are the situations that usually bring on the urge to overeat. To “turn off” the trigger, you’ll need to make a change in the tempting situation. Example: If the pile of doughnuts near the coffeepot is hard to resist, leave the scene as soon as you pour yourself a cup of coffee.
- The fine art of feeling full. Changing the way you eat can help you eat less without feeling deprived. Eating slowly can help you feel satisfied sooner, and therefore you will avoid second helpings. Eating lots of vegetables and fruits and drinking plenty of non-caloric beverages can also make you feel fuller.
C. Get Moving!
Regular physical activity is a powerful way to reduce your risk of heart disease. Physical activity directly helps prevent heart problems. Staying active also helps prevent and control high blood pressure, keep cholesterol levels healthy, and prevent and control diabetes. Plus, regular physical activity is a great way to help take off extra pounds—and keep them off. Regular physical activity has a host of other health benefits. Staying active also strengthens the lungs, tones the muscles, keeps the joints in good condition, improves balance, and may slow bone loss. It also helps many people sleep better, feel less depressed, cope better with stress and anxiety, and generally feel more relaxed and energetic. You can benefit from physical activity at any age. In fact, staying active can help prevent, delay, or improve many age-related health problems.
A Little Activity Goes a Long Way. To reduce the risk of disease, you only need to do about 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week.
Getting regular physical activity can be easy—especially if you take advantage of everyday opportunities to move around. For example:
■ Use stairs—both up and down—instead of elevators.
■ Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way. If you take public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks.
■ Instead of eating that rich dessert or extra snack, take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood.
■ Do housework or yard work at a more vigorous pace.
■ When you travel, walk around the train station, bus station, or airport rather than sitting and waiting.
■ Keep moving while you watch TV. Lift hand weights, do some gentle yoga stretches, or pedal an exercise bike.
■ Spend less time watching TV and using the computer.
Some people should get medical advice before starting regular physical activity.
Check with your doctor if you:
■ Are over 50 years old and not used to moderately energetic activity
■ Currently have heart trouble or have had a heart attack
■ Have a parent or sibling who developed heart disease at an early age
■ Have a chronic health problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, or obesity
Once you get started, keep these guidelines in mind:
Go slow. Before each activity session, allow a 5-minute period of slow-to-moderate movement to give your body to get ready for more exercise. At the end of the warmup period, gradually increase your pace. Toward the end of your activity, take another 5 minutes to cool down with a slower, less energetic pace.
Listen to your body. A certain amount of stiffness is normal at first. But if you hurt a joint or pull a muscle, stop the activity for several days to avoid more serious injury. Rest and over-the-counter painkillers can heal most minor muscle and joint problems.
Check the weather report. Dress appropriately for hot, humid days and for cold days. In all weather, drink lots of water before, during, and after physical activity.
Pay attention to warning signals. While physical activity can strengthen your heart, some types of activity may worsen existing heart problems. Warning signals include sudden dizziness, cold sweat, paleness, fainting, or pain or pressure in your upper body just after doing a physical activity. If you notice any of these signs, call your doctor right away.
Use caution. If you’re concerned about the safety of your surroundings, pair up with a buddy for outdoor activities. Walk, bike, or jog during daylight hours.
D. You Can Stop Smoking
The good news is that quitting smoking immediately reduces your risk of heart disease and other serious disorders, with the benefit increasing over time. Visit http://www.lifelinehealthcarebd.org/At-Last-Quit-Smoking-for-Good to learn details.
E. Control other risk factors.
This is the deadliest health condition which, if not controlled, ultimately can damage all your vital organs leading to life-threatening complications. Controlling Diabetes involves lifestyle changes, diet control, taking medication, regular monitoring of diabetes status etc.
Visit http://www.lifelinehealthcarebd.org/Diabetes to learn more.
High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart diseases and stroke. As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. It can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries and can partially or totally block the blood's flow through an artery in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys, causing their damage. The good news is, you can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Visit http://www.lifelinehealthcarebd.org/Learn-All-About-Cholesterol. to learn more.
Blood Pressure control
High Blood Pressure, if not controlled, can cause heart problems leading to heart failure and other complications. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, this risk increases even further.
Visit http://www.lifelinehealthcarebd.org/Hypertension to learn more.
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Not all stress is bad. All of us have a stress response to cope with our life events, and it can be life-saving. But chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm. Stress management is, therefore, extremely important to live a better life avoiding many ailments related to stress. Visit http://www.lifelinehealthcarebd.org/Stress-Management to learn more.