World Heart Day, which takes place every September, is a good time to remind Americans that cardiovascular disease has a way of sneaking up on people. That’s why UCI Health heart health experts want you to know that you can reduce your risk, often without relying on medication.
“The aim of World Heart Day is to support the World Heart Federation’s goal of reducing cardiovascular disease-related deaths by 25 percent by the year 2025,” says Nathan D. Wong, PhD, director, Heart Disease Prevention Program, UCI Health Division of Cardiology. “Cardiovascular disease is the greatest killer of both men and women in the United States.”
8 steps to reducing your risk
Wong says you can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by following these eight key steps:
- Control high blood pressure. Hypertension is the greatest risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If high blood pressure is not controlled, it can cause injury to other organs or death. Maintain a healthy body weight, get regular physical activity and restrict sodium intake to help keep blood pressure at healthy levels.
- Reduce blood sugar levels. Heart disease and stroke are the major causes of death in persons with diabetes. Adults who suffer diabetes are at two to four times greater risk for suffering heart disease or stroke than those without diabetes. Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise to help reduce your risks of developing diabetes.
- Control blood cholesterol. It’s normal to have cholesterol. However, excess cholesterol is a risk factor in coronary disease and stroke. Levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in particular are an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Limit saturated fat intake and adhere to prescribed medications to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Stop smoking. Those who smoke run a substantially greater risk of cardiovascular disease and suffering premature death. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Keep active. Finding time to exercise is a challenge for everyone. However, the benefits are much greater than the sacrifices of making time for daily physical activity.
- Eat healthy. Current guidelines recommend a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts. Limit sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. Restrict sodium (and added salt in cooking) and saturated fat intake, beverages with added sugars, and pre-packaged and processed foods.
- Lose weight. Excess weight is a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Even moderate weight loss can result in major improvements in blood pressure, risk of diabetes, and reductions in certain lipids and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
- Keep a healthy mind. Depression, anger, anxiety, pessimism and a lack of social networks have been liked to higher risks of heart disease. They can also directly influence one’s adherence to a healthy diet and physical activity, as well as taking prescribed cardiac medications. Learning to control these factors can possibly help lower your risk.