Did you know that more than a million people die from heart disease in North America every year? It is the leading cause of death of men and women, and hundreds of thousands of people suffer sudden heart attacks every year. Despite its prevalence, heart disease can be prevented with some relatively straightforward lifestyle changes. Let’s look at the top lifestyle changes that could help you maintain a healthy heart and avoid a heart attack.
A healthy diet is the most important thing you can do for your heart. When it comes to diet, we’re talking about your daily eating habits, and one of the mistakes many adults make is thinking they can change their diet for the short term to achieve lifelong health. While dieting to drop a few pounds is a normal activity for many of us, the reality remains that if you want to have a healthy heart, you need to maintain a healthy diet today and in the future.
Unfortunately, the media makes it tough to understand what goes into a healthy diet for your heart. In fact, a lot of people think saturated fats (found in foods like butter and eggs) are the problem, when actually refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods are the bigger culprits.
So, when you want to eat well for your heart, you need to think about the effect fats have on cholesterol, specifically LDL cholesterol – that’s the bad kind. To make matters more convoluted, recent research shows that there are two types of LDL cholesterol – large and small. Large LDL cholesterol is not associated with heart disease while small LDL cholesterol particles have been shown to contribute to plaque in your arteries. Diets rich in trans fats, refined sugar, and carbohydrates increase the prevalence of these small LDL cholesterol particles while diets high in saturated fats do not.
In a nutshell, if you’re cooking with fats, butter and lard are much healthier choices than vegetable oils and margarine which contain trans fats. You should also avoid refined sugar and processed fructose and choose natural sources of sugar like that found in fruits and vegetables.
Here are some healthy eating tips:
- Avoid or eliminate processed foods, especially those containing refined sugar and grains.
- Choose whole foods and replace grains and carbohydrates with vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats such as butter, avocados, coconut oil, and raw nuts.
- Eat fruit, but not too much – apples, blueberries, or cherries are great choices when eaten in moderation (2-4 servings per day). If you’re overweight, diabetic, hypertensive, or have high cholesterol, you should restrict your fruit intake further (i.e. 1-2 servings per day).
Another important lifestyle change relates to activity levels. The truth is we live in a very sedentary society. Many of us have office jobs and spend the majority of our day sitting in front of a computer. Regular exercise is an important component of maintaining a healthy heart. In fact, research shows regular exercise and a healthy diet can have a more positive effect on cholesterol levels than cholesterol-lowering medications.
Indeed, regular exercise has a variety of benefits:
- Improve heart and cardiovascular system strength,
- Promote healthy circulation and improved oxygen absorption,
- Prevent heart failure,
- Increase overall energy levels and endurance,
- Lower blood pressure,
- Strengthen bones,
- Reduce body fat,
- Improve sleep,
- Reduce stress as well as ameliorate symptoms of anxietyand depression,
- And promote balance and joint flexibility.
The best types of exercise incorporate stretching with aerobic (cardiovascular) and strengthening exercises, but focusing and cardiovascular fitness is ideal. Walking at a brisk pace (6km/h), jogging or cycling for just 30 minutes 3 or 4 days a week can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Obviously, making lifestyle changes can be challenging, but the benefits can also motivate you. Set achievable goals and incorporate moderate change over time and you’ll likely be more successful. Over time, making healthier choices will be easier as you feel better.