How To Avoid Heart Disease—Even If It Runs In Your Family

February 13 2018

Heart disease is one of the top killers of both men and women. So it’s no surprise that every week, experts publish new research connecting a behaviour or environmental factor with heart disease.

Confronted with so much confusing and contradictory information, it can be difficult for health-conscious people to figure out what factors and behaviours truly lower their heart disease risks. Making the right choices can seem like a struggle.

If you know your parents, grandparents or close relatives suffered from heart disease at young ages, your doctor needs to know. He or she can order specific gene or blood tests that may reveal you have a high risk for heart trouble. In some cases, a super-healthy lifestyle may not be enough to safeguard your heart. These people may need medications—a daily aspirin or statins—to reduce their risks.

So, step one if you’re worried about heart disease: Know your family history, and let your doctor know if you have relatives who suffered from heart trouble at a young age.

Assuming you’ve taken that precaution, what else can you do to significantly lower your risks? A lot. A large-scale 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, even among patients with a strong heredity risk for heart disease, the right lifestyle choices could slash that risk by roughly 50%.

Here are six tips backed by substantial, consistent scientific evidence.

Exercise at least once a week.

More exercise is better. But even a once-weekly bout of physical activity is associated with a 12% drop in heart disease risk, according to that comprehensive NEJM study.

The heart is a muscle, and raising your heart rate with regular exercise is one of the best ways to ensure it stays strong. So many of us get caught up with “the latest and greatest” trends in fitness. And those are great if you want to try them, but you don’t need to do hot yoga or CrossFit to protect your heart.

Whether you enjoy running, cycling, swimming, or fast-paced vinyasa yoga, try to exercise at a moderate to vigorous pace—something that gets your heart rate elevated—at least once a week.

Take at least 5,000 steps a day.

Yes, walking is a workout—especially if you’re walking fast enough to elevate your breathing and heart rate. But if walking is your preferred mode of exercise, a single weekly bout isn’t enough to safeguard your heart. You should be aiming for at least 5,000 steps a day, shows research.

A sedentary lifestyle is a major predictor of heart disease. And one study found 5,000 steps is the daily minimum that pushes you from a sedentary lifestyle into an active lifestyle, which slashes your risk for heart disease—as well as other major health issues such as diabetes and obesity.

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The world of dieting is so rife with charlatanry and talk of “miracles” that identifying a truly healthy diet can be confusing. But decades of research show eating a variety of whole fruits and vegetables is the foundation of a heart-healthy diet.

“You want a range of colours on your plate—something a child would like,” Gulati says.

A fruit or vegetable’s colour is determined by its nutrient components. So by eating plenty of reds, yellows, oranges and purples with your leafy greens, you’ll ensure your body and heart are getting what they need.

“We know that getting vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables is far better than taking a multi-vitamin or supplement,” she adds.

Don’t smoke.

You probably don’t need to be told this, but smoking is so rotten for your heart that some of the warnings are worth repeating.

Smoking is the number one cause of heart disease, and it is also the most easily reversible risk factor. Although “easy” may not be the right word to describe the gargantuan task of quitting, but in terms of quickly lowering your risks, quitting smoking is easily the best thing you can do for your heart.

The NEJM study mentioned earlier that not smoking could lower a person’s risk for heart disease by nearly 50%.

Avoid added sugar.

The amount of sugar people are eating is contributing to heart disease as well as diabetes and obesity, and if we could cut our added sugar to a reasonable level, that would help a lot.

Added sugar is different from the naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruits and dairy from the sweet stuff food manufacturers dump into packaged products—from salad dressings and condiments to breakfast cereals.

It is recommended that men limit their added sugar intake to 36 grams a day—which is roughly the amount in one 375mL can of soda. For women, that daily limit is 25 grams or the amount in a 225mL can of Coca-Cola.

If you consume a lot of products with added sugar, don’t be afraid to start small like cutting back on the sugar you add to your tea or coffee every day.

Ditch nighttime stressors.

Getting a good night’s sleep is so important to heart health. There are studies showing people who have less sleep have more calcium in their coronary arteries and a higher risk of cardiac events and risk factors like higher blood pressure.

While sleep itself is likely important for heart health, elevated levels of evening stress—the type that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or to sleep soundly—could also help explain the links between sleep and heart disease. Your blood pressure should naturally drop at nighttime, and if it doesn’t, that’s a particular marker of future heart disease.

What can you do to ensure your heart rate and stress levels fall in the evening hours? Decompress before going to bed. If the stuff you do in an hour or two before bed is more likely to leave you worked up than calm, consider changing your habits. Ditching your phone in the hour before bed is also a good idea, suggests a 2016 study.


Sourced from Prevention.