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Online Resources for Maintaining a Healthy Heart


by Dr. Mary Williams, R.N. D.C.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. It is a problem that affects people of all nationalities and genders: In fact, for both men and women, it is the leading cause of death. Fortunately, there are things that people can do to help prevent death from the complications of heart disease. By increasing their awareness of heart disease and its causes, and by making certain changes, people may even reduce their risk of developing it altogether.

Nutrition

"Heart-healthy diet" is a phrase that is commonly used when talking about nutrition and one's heart. This type of diet involves avoiding foods that increase one's risks of heart disease and eating foods that have a positive impact. Examples of foods to avoid or eat less include those that contain sodium, trans fats, and saturated fats. Excess sodium is often added to food while cooking, after it has been cooked, or during processing, and it contributes greatly to the risk of heart disease. In general, people should aim to consume fewer than 1500 milligrams of salt daily. Additionally, people should eliminate or drastically reduce sugar intake and processed foods in general.

Good nutritional habits to follow are those that lend themselves to a healthier heart. These include consuming more vegetables and fruits, according to the American Heart Association, which also encourages people to eat foods that are high in fiber and to choose items such as chicken and lean meats. Eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, also reduces the chance of heart disease. In general, fish should be eaten at least twice a week. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are also a good choice when fats are required in cooking; however, they should still be consumed in moderation.

Physical Activity

Physical activity alongside proper nutrition can reduce the risk of heart disease. Fat tends to accumulate around the hearts of people who are less active, increasing the risk of heart problems. In addition, the elevated risk of weight gain due to inactivity also increases the risk of conditions that affect the heart, including elevated cholesterol and increased blood sugar levels. By living a more active lifestyle, people can strengthen the heart, help to reduce blood pressure and control blood sugar, and work toward a healthy weight. To achieve a healthy increase in activity, people should participate in moderate exercise or activity daily for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Managing Weight

As noted, carrying extra weight is yet another factor that raises one's risk of heart disease. This is particularly true when the weight is carried around one's middle. High levels of abdominal fat are considered a major risk factor for heart disease. Doctors often measure waist circumference in determining this risk and find that it is highest in men with a waist measurements of 40 inches and women with measurements of 35 inches. Although eating healthy foods helps, it is just as important for people to watch food quantity, lower their caloric intake, and exercise. At least 60 minutes of light to moderate exercise daily can help one to reach weight loss goals and reduce the dangers of heart disease.

Managing Stress

During times of stress, a person's body goes through a series of changes that are detrimental to their heart health. One stage of stress is called the "fight or flight" response. During this response, the body releases chemicals that cause a person's heart rate to increase and also cause an increase in blood flow and blood pressure. In addition, the body experiences an increase in energy due to an increase in blood glucose. These changes prepare the body for either "flight" or "fight" in situations of high stress, anxiety, or danger. Normally, these changes level out once the stress or threat has been resolved; however, for some people, these changes can linger. This is associated with chronic stress, and if uncontrolled, the strain can have a negative effect on the heart. Stress also causes people to behave in ways that can ultimately affect their heart. For example, stress may cause some people to eat more or eat foods that are unhealthy. Stress is also often associated with smoking, as some people use cigarettes to relieve their stress.

There are a number of methods that people can employ to help reduce stress levels, with some as simple as interacting with upbeat friends and family. People may also benefit from evaluating the things that are causing them stress. If these things can be changed, they should make efforts to do so. When considering what cannot be changed, people must determine if these are things, or even people, that can be eliminated from their lives. If not, it is important to find a way to better cope with and potentially alleviate the stress. Taking a break from stressful situations is one way to accomplish that, even if it is a small break. For example, during a stressful day at work, take a ten-minute walk or step outside for fresh air. Making a conscientious effort to slow down one's pace and even getting more organized at home and at work can help reduce the amount of stress and anxiety in one's life. Yet another major but simple tool to use against stress is laughter.

Healthy Habits

Most people have habits that are either good or bad. When it comes to the heart, certain habits contribute to and even elevate the risks of developing heart problems. Smoking is one of these habits. Studies have shown that people are at twice the risk of having a heart attack if they routinely smoke a pack a day of cigarettes. The decision to stop smoking is extremely significant to one's health, and within a year of quitting, a person's risk of a heart attack decreases to half of what it would have been. In addition to quitting smoking and assuming other heart-healthy habits previously discussed, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and losing weight, people should also adopt good sleeping habits. Studies have shown that the risk of a heart attack increases in people who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night. The same group also has an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Heart Disease Facts: The Centers for Disease Control lists facts and statistics related to heart disease on its website. At the bottom of the page, there is also a section titled "Protect Your Heart" that lists ways that people can prevent heart disease.

  • Nutrition and Heart Disease: This link from the Ohio State University Heart and Vascular Health website reviews nutrition and heart disease. Readers who click on this page learn what a heart-healthy diet consists of and are given links to heart-healthy recipes and tips.

  • CPR for Adults: People with healthy hearts often don't need CPR, but if they do this certification program teaches CPR based on latest AHA guidelines.

  • Heart Disease and a Heart-Healthy Diet: Click on this link to learn nutritional strategies for a heart-healthy diet. The page also includes other strategies for heart health, such as exercise.

  • How to Have a Healthy Heart: The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs discusses cardiovascular health on this page. It also explains ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, such as exercise and healthy eating.

  • Hearti-Facts - Good Nutrition Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease: This article discusses how to adjust one's diet for heart-healthy eating.

  • Fight Stress with Heart-Healthy Habits: The American Heart Association lists ten ways to reduce stress and help prevent heart disease.

  • To Maintain a Healthy Heart, How Many Hours a Night Should I Sleep?: A question-and-answer article discusses how much sleep is needed for good heart health.

  • Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease: The Mayo Clinic lists three strategies that people should use to prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease. The strategies include a heart-healthy diet, not smoking, and exercise.

  • Heart-Healthy Diet: Guidelines and nutritional basics for following a heart-healthy diet are included on this University of Maryland Medical Center website.

  • Stress Can Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease: Read how stress can cause heart disease by clicking on this link. The article also discusses what people can do to reduce the stress in their lives, such as exercising, treating anxiety, and reducing work-related stress.