Marielle Suddarth, NSCA CPT, Program Director at The New Beginnings Center, suggests three simple ways you can start improving the health of your Heart, and avoid the risk of Heart Disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States for both women and men. Every 40 seconds someone dies of cardiovascular disease in the United States. 2,150 per day – a drastic number considering most of the risk factors can be eliminated through lifestyle changes. The five major risk factors that contribute to heart disease are a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids (cholesterol), smoking, and obesity. Other factors outside our realm of influence are family history and age.
What is in your realm of control to drastically decrease your risk of hearts disease? A few basic lifestyle changes!
In the United States as many as 250,000 deaths per year are attributed to a sedentary lifestyle – lacking regular exercise! Research by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), American Collage of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the American Heart Association (AHA), all state that active individuals have fewer cases of heart disease. In fact their sedentary counterparts not only have a higher rate of disease and cardiovascular events, but also a higher death rate when these events occur. With the addition of regular exercise the death rate in heart attack patients alone dropped 20-25%. So, just how much exercise is enough? You don’t have to be a professional weightlifter to reap the benefits! According to the CDC, ACSM, and AHA panels, you can reduce your risk with as little as 30 minutes of physical activity per day. With regular exercise you improve the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen, improve the capacity of blood vessels, increase insulin sensitivity in diabetics, promote bone density, not to mention the increase in muscle mass improves the body’s general quality of function and day-to-day life. More muscle mass means a boost to your metabolic rate, helping your body burn more calories even when at rest, resulting in better weight management and body function all around.
Today we are eating approximately 200-300 more calories per day than in the 1970s and are leading less active lifestyles. Additionally, the quality of our calories has significantly declined with the increase of highly processed, easy, convenience foods available in the markets and restaurants in the United States today. According to the British Medical Journal, 60% of the Standard American Diet consists of ultra-processed foods. We have almost forgotten what it is to eat a balanced diet, containing lean proteins, fresh colorful vegetables, unprocessed carbohydrates, and healthy fats. This is what we must return to for a healthy heart! Replacing meals out, frozen dinners, and fast food, is not convenient. However it is key to living a healthy life and will reward you with both physical and psychological benefits.
The hazards of daily stress are frequently underestimated but play a large role in our health. Stress is directly related to heart disease not just because many heart episodes are triggered by an upsetting emotional event, but because most individuals’ coping mechanisms for stress tend to be unhealthy habits that contribute to the risk factors. Some examples of these are smoking, over-eating, and heavy drinking, to name a few. Rolanda Perkins, WomenHeart Champion and Support Network Coordinator in Nashville, emphasizes the importance of reducing stress in your life to help maintain peace of mind and mental stability. Incorporating healthy stress management systems in your life is crucial. This could be meditation, journaling, exercise, quality time with loved ones, time in nature, and even cutting back on daily commitments.
Regular exercise, dietary changes, and being more mindful of your daily stressors and coping mechanisms, will steer you on the path to a healthy heart, body, and mind. Exercise lowers stress, anxiety, and increases self-confidence. A healthy diet, void of processed convenience foods, will help your body function at its optimal level, giving you mental clarity, and more wherewithal to handle your everyday life challenges. These lifestyle changes can be challenging – but the payoff is great quality of life.