According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), heart disease is the most common killer of both men and women in the United States, claiming around 610,000 lives each year. That means that on average, 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by poor heart health. Just alone in 2009, heart disease was responsible for 1 in every 2 deaths.
The most common type of heart disease is ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary heart disease, killing over 370,000 people every year. It’s the primary cause of most heart attacks. Every year around 735,000 people have a heart attack – many of whom are unaware that they were even at risk.
Heart disease preys on people with an unhealthy lifestyle. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, a poor diet, a sedentary life, or smoke, then you are automatically at a higher risk for heart disease. Shockingly, this accounts for 47% of the US population.
But it's not all bad news. There are diet and lifestyle changes you can make today in order to keep yourself out of the 47%, and live a longer, happier, and healthier life.
1. Cut Out All Gluten Products
It is estimated that around 22 million Americans are either gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, meaning their body doesn't digest gluten properly. Gluten is a protein that can be found in a variety of foods like wheat, rye, and barley, and can damage your body. If gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive people eat a food with gluten, then their body will attack itself with antibodies as if it’s a foreign object. Doctors, such as Dr. Houston of Vanderbilt University, have researched that these attacks not only cause inflammation in the intestines, but also cause problems with the inner lining of blood vessels, leading to many types of cardiovascular disease. A lot of the time, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol can be indicative of gluten sensitivity or even gluten intolerance. So, unfortunately because of this pesky protein, gluten, our heart can actually suffer more damage. To avoid complications, it's best to eliminate all gluten products from your diet and see if your cholesterol levels stabilize.
2. Choose the Right Kind of Fat
Just as there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there is also good fat and bad fat – not all fat is bad. It's extremely important to choose the RIGHT kinds of fat to eat that will help keep your heart healthy.
One of the most common cooking oils you can find in nearly every household across the nation is canola oil. But, canola oil is actually one of the most harmful oils you can use in your food. Canola oil in the United States is made from genetically modified seeds. It is heavily processed and can cause many diseases, including cancer. Removing this oil from your shopping list will already do great favors for your heart. Instead, use coconut oil. It's a fantastic cooking oil and heart healthy alternative. Its fat burning properties actually lower your risk of heart disease!
There are also many healthy, natural fatty foods to incorporate into your diet. Choose salmon, walnuts, almonds, raspberries, Greek yogurt, chickpeas, olive oil, avocado, butter, and dark chocolate to help keep your heart healthy.
3. Stay Active
Staying active is crucial for your heart health, especially for those who live a mostly sedentary life. Making every effort to move around during the day can already make a huge difference in your physical activity. Leaving your work desk every hour, going for an evening walk, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are just a few small changes you can make to better your heart health. As a working mom of 2, I barely have any time to breathe, let alone work out. Find an exercise routine that works with your schedule, even if it’s 5 minutes here and there during the day.
4. Make Time to Relax
Making time to relax and unwind from the day can have a tremendous impact on your heart's well-being. Numerous studies have proven that high stress levels lead to an increase in stress hormones that spike your blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the more you are at risk of damaging the inner lining of your arteries or forming an aneurysm. To combat this, take at least 30 minutes every night before bed to meditate or focus on your breathing. It will calm your nerves and lower your stress hormones in order to protect your heart from damage.
5. Monitor Your Heart Health Numbers
While it's extremely important to adjust your eating and exercise habits, it's just as important to keep track of your cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. After a blood test, your doctor will let you know the levels you should be aiming for and how to monitor them. Heart.org suggests that in general, you want to keep your HDL (good) cholesterol at a higher level and your LDL (bad) cholesterol at a lower level. A healthy HDL level is around 60mg/dL or higher, while a healthy LDL level is around 100 mg/dL or lower. They also suggest that the average optimal blood pressure for a healthy adult is around 120/80 mm Hg – staying at or lower than this number is a sign of healthy blood pressure. Anything higher than that can indicate hypertension and can be extremely dangerous and damaging to your heart.