February is National Heart Month, of grave importance to Baby Boomers and older adults. Fortunately, heart disease is one that responds well to lifestyle changes–healthy food and exercise.
Last year, one of my neighbors shared with me his brush with death, and it mirrors the stories I’ve heard from other heart-disease patients. In his late fifties, Dave’s doctors discovered his arteries were 99 percent blocked; eventually, seven stints would help keep them open. Assuming everything was “fixed,” Dave went about his daily life without making any lifestyle changes, but the disease continued to progress.
The real wake-up call didn’t occur for another seven years, when a “bad cold”—a side note to a routine doctor’s visit—turned out to be a heart attack that led to triple bypass surgery. Dave and his wife have since made major changes to their diet, and he continues to be active in the family business, enjoying time with his grandchildren.
We all know about heart disease (or cardiovascular disease). Yet despite years of public health efforts to curb this epidemic, the statistics remain alarming (3):
- Heart disease is still the number-one killer worldwide
- It claims 800,000 US lives each year—approximately one in three deaths
- In the United States, someone dies from a heart attack every forty seconds
“Heart disease” is a category of disorders involving the heart and blood vessels (coronary heart disease, or CHD, and stroke). CHD develops over time, with a narrowing or blockage of heart blood vessels caused by a build-up of plaque (fat and cholesterol). Think of muck gradually accumulating inside a hose, and eventually bursting and blocking the flow of water. This is what happens to blood vessels leading to the heart—eventually they don’t allow enough oxygen-rich blood to nourish this vital organ. The result can be a heart attack.
Several risk factors exist for heart disease. Those you cannot modify include:
- age (the majority of people who die from heart disease are 65 and older)
- gender (men still have a greater risk of heart disease than women)
- genetics (a family history of heart disease increases the risk, as does being African American, Mexican American, American Indian, or Native Hawaiian)
Fortunately, some risk factors can be controlled. The American Heart Association has identified lifestyle goals that contribute to heart health—“Life’s Simple 7” (4)—reflected in the recommendations below, divided into Food, Exercise, and Other categories.
1) Eat better. Increase your consumption foods containing soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol: fruits (bananas, apples, oranges, peaches, and berries), vegetables (Brussel sprouts and turnips), whole grains (oatmeal), and dried beans. Eat more healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil) and fish, while cutting down on sodium (salt), overall fat intake (especially saturated and trans fats), high-fat meats (including processed/cured meats), high-fat dairy products, and sugar. These food modifications will help control the following four risk factors.
2) Control cholesterol. Cholesterol is a natural substance our bodies manufacture that’s vital for its proper functioning. But high levels of one type of cholesterol, LDL, can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack. Diet and exercise affect LDL levels.
3) Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure causes excess strain and damage to coronary arteries, which can lead to a build up of plaque and, eventually, a heart attack.
4) Reduce blood sugar. Heart disease death rates among adults with diabetes are two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.
5) Maintain a healthy weight. A decrease in weight of only 5-10 percent will decrease your overall risk for heart disease.
6) Get active. Exercising thirty minutes most days of the week will boost heart-health.
7) Stop smoking—Chemicals in smoke can damage heart tissue and blood vessels. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease approximates that of non-smokers within five years.
Also, ask your healthcare provider about plant stanols and sterols, naturally-occurring substances in a plant-based diet that help lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL).
Excerpted from my first book, Building Your Enduring Fitness. Available soon for pre-sale; watch for announcement!
For more ideas about lifestyle changes to support a healthy heart, give me a call!
We can discuss some practical tips and discover if any of my programs or classes are a good fit for you.
If you’d like to schedule that call with me, just CLICK THIS LINK, and let me know in the message that you would like a 1-on-1 call with me right away and I will be in touch to schedule that – oh, and leave me your phone number in there too since email is not as reliable as it used to be! Thanks.