The chance of developing heart disease depends on many factors such as genetic predisposition, sex, age, and lifestyle. Although you cannot change your genetic predisposition or age, you have the power to change lifestyle risk factors leading to heart disease. The key steps to heart disease prevention are: don’t smoke, get regular exercise and eat healthy foods. It is also advisable to get regular health checkups to determine your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body fat. Because without testing for them, you probably would not know if you need to take any action.
Smoking or using other tobacco products is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals. Many of these will damage your heart and blood vessels and increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis. In addition, nicotine and carbon monoxide contained in cigarette smoke increases your blood pressure because they force your heart to work harder. Fortunately, if you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically just within one year.
Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease. Physical activity also helps to control weight, can reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Furthermore, physical activity reduces stress, which may also be a factor in heart disease. Physicians recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. However, any amount and type of exercise (e.g. taking the stairs, gardening, housekeeping) will benefit the heart.
Eating a healthy diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt. Such diets emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, soybean, peanuts) and certain types of fish are an excellent low-fat source of protein.
Foods high in saturated fats should be reduced as they are thought to contribute to atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Examples include dairy products, animal fats, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil and chocolate.
There is also growing evidence that trans fats may be worse than saturated fats, and should be avoided if possible. Because unlike saturated fats, trans fats raise not only your “bad cholesterol” but lower the “good cholesterol” as well. Examples of food containing trans fats are deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, crackers and margarines. The term “partially hydrogenated” on food packages is a good indication that such foods contain trans fats.
On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, may decrease your risk of having a heart attack and lower your blood pressure. Some fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but increasing concerns of toxic levels of heavy metals (e.g. mercury) makes fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids less ideal. A better source, although less concentrated, are omega-3 fatty acids from walnut, flaxseed or canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in food supplements.
Weight gain in adults is usually due to an increase in body fat and not as most of us desire in muscle mass. Sadly, such superfluous weight gains can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an increased risk of developing heart disease. Hence, maintaining a healthy body weight is an important factor to stay in shape. Already small reductions in body weight can show great benefits. Scientific studies showed that even 10% of body weight reduction decreases blood pressure, lowers the blood cholesterol level and reduces the risk of developing diabetes.