Take control and prevent heart disease

Controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity can help prevent heart disease.

Even if a doctor has already diagnosed you with cardiovascular disease, you can modify your lifestyle to better manage your condition.

Stop smoking

A lifetime of cigarette smoking will roughly double your risk of developing heart disease, and stopping smoking is often the single most effective thing a person can do to prevent heart disease. This extra risk decreases within a few years of quitting.

It is important to remember there is medical support available to help you to quit.

Check your blood pressure regularly

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a potent risk factor for developing heart disease and kidney damage, though it hardly ever produces detectable symptoms. If you have high blood pressure, it may damage your arteries and put strain on your heart.

If the higher blood pressure value (systolic) is more than 135, or if the lower one (diastolic) is more than 90, you should have a doctor evaluate you for high blood pressure. They may recommend making some lifestyle changes such as starting an exercise and nutrition plan to bring your blood pressure back into the normal range.

You can also control your high blood pressure with a low-sodium diet. Avoid foods that contain more than 300 mg of sodium per serving, use little or no salt when preparing foods, and avoid using the salt shaker at the table. Restaurant foods can be high in sodium, so choose wisely when dining out. Canned vegetables, soups and frozen meals also may be higher in sodium, so make sure to check the label and buy the low-sodium or no-sodium options when available.

Find out if you have diabetes

Diabetes does not cause obvious symptoms until it is advanced – most people who have diabetes have it for several years before diagnosis. Diabetes poses an increased risk to developing heart disease, so to prevent heart disease, you can maintain blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

If you have not done so recently, go to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. This is especially important, if you are overweight or if other people in your family have diabetes.

Maintain an ideal body weight

Being overweight or obese is associated with various heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. The increased health risk of excess weight is most marked when the excess fat is mainly in the abdomen rather than on the hips and thighs.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is a good way to prevent heart disease, as it keeps your arteries flexible and can reverse build-up of fatty plaques in blood vessels. If you aren’t used to regular exercise, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program because the risk of heart attack and stroke may increase during and immediately after strenuous exercise.

Aerobic exercise deepens breathing and increases the heart rate by activating the large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. Exercises include hiking, tennis, swimming, bicycle riding, jogging, aerobic dancing, handball, racquetball and squash. Experts recommend participating in these types of exercises 5 times per week for at least 30 minutes.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating healthily helps lower your cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease, and also helps you maintain weight, reducing your obesity risk. Food to include in your diet include:

  • Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that are important in reducing inflammation and preventing plaque build-up in the arteries
  • Fish is a source of omega fats, which may play a role in heart health, and selenium, which is a mineral and powerful antioxidant
  • Many nuts and seeds are rich in omega-3s and fiber
  • Plant-derived foods and oils are rich in polyunsaturated fats that can help to improve cholesterol levels
  • Legumes such as soy beans, lentils and black beans are low in fat and high in fiber. They are also cholesterol-free and rich in vitamins and minerals, meaning that they may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, particularly if dietary meat is swapped for soy products such as tofu
  • Low-fat or non-dairy alternatives to full-fat milk and other dairy products can help reduce cholesterol levels by reducing your saturated fat intake
  • Lean meats instead of organic and grass-fed meats and poultry

Some things to remember when shopping include:

  • Avoid commercial cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries and desserts
  • Reduce your intake of palm and coconut oil, coconut milk and cream; also products labeled as vegetable oil, fat or solids
  • Look for foods with less than 10 g total fat per 100 g and less than 3 g saturated fat per 100 g
  • Check food ingredients for ‘hidden’ saturated fats such as lard, milk solids, beef fat, tallow, animal fat, vegetable oil and palm oil
  • Avoid the trans fats that are often found in foods such as cakes, chips and biscuits
  • Reduce caffeine intake by reducing the amount of coffee and tea. Try green tea instead, as it is rich in antioxidants

Control cholesterol

High LDL cholesterol can cause the blood vessels in your body to narrow. This can block the blood flow to your vital organs including the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is important in reducing LDL cholesterol levels, and therefore a good way to prevent heart disease. Doctors may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, bile acid binding resins (such as Questran) or cholesterol absorption inhibitors to help you control your cholesterol.

Reduce salt intake

Adults should eat no more than a teaspoon of salt per day. Even reducing your intake by a modest amount can make quite a big difference.

Average adult daily intake is around 9 g per day. About three quarters of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy. Simply checking food labels and choosing foods with lower salt options can make a big difference.

A tip: sodium is usually listed on the food label. Multiplying the sodium content by 2.5 will give the salt content. Also avoid adding salt to food at the table.

Drink in moderation

Some researchers have shown drinking a small or moderate amount of alcohol (such as half a glass of wine per day) may help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (38% compared with non-drinkers). Drinking more than recommended upper limits, however, can be harmful.

Last reviewed 24/Feb/2017

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