Breaking the Chain in Family Heart Disease
We inherit a lot of things from our parents, both good and bad. All of the family members before us are like puzzle pieces that fit together to create the unique person we become, including some of the health conditions we have to contend with.
Not all health conditions are inherited, but many problems within the cardiovascular system can be passed down from one generation to the next. Heredity could play a role if multiple family members have had heart attacks, strokes and/or heart disease in the past.
There are things we can all do to improve our cardiovascular health regardless of the health conditions we inherit. When it comes to our hearts, the lifestyle choices we make can be just as important (or more) than our DNA.
Wear a medical alert device if you have heart problems
If heart disease runs in the family then being prepared is essential. Health experts recommend that people with existing heart conditions use medical alerts and keep cell phones nearby as a safeguard. If a cardiac event occurs and you are alone, it could be difficult to get help without one or both of these devices. With the click of a button you can get the medical help you need, which could prove to be lifesaving.
Eat a heart healthy diet
What you eat has a huge impact on heart health. Certain foods can clog arteries, increase blood pressure and make it more difficult for the heart to circulate blood through the body. On the flip side, there are foods that support heart health and can help prevent damage.
A heart healthy diet is one that:
- Is low in fat, particularly saturated and trans fat (less than 7 percent and 1 percent of your daily calories respectively).
- Is low sodium.
- Limits sugar intake.
- Focuses on lean meats and plant protein.
- Includes a variety of produce.
- Includes whole grains rather than refined grains.
- Provides a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids through fish and nuts.
- Is low in LDL “bad” cholesterol.
- Is high in HDL “good” cholesterol.
- Limits portion sizes.
- Limits processed foods.
- Sticks to low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
Doctors are now urging people to eat more plant-based diets since meats tend to be high in saturated fat and trans fat, which elevates LDL cholesterol levels. The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can actually help prevent cardiovascular disease. For more guidance on how to put together a heart healthy diet visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Stay physically active
One of the biggest cardiovascular misconceptions is that you have to suffer through heart-pounding high intensity workouts to gain any benefit. Many studies have proven this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
You can support heart health by simply staying physically active. Moderate exercise, including walking, has been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise to improve overall cardiovascular health. If you can’t square away that much time, 75 minutes of high intensity exercise a week is also sufficient enough to see heart benefits.
To make physical activity a habit you will stick with, it is important to find exercises that you actually enjoy. You don’t have to watch the minutes tick away on a treadmill or get an expensive gym membership. Hiking a trail with a friend or your dog provides the same cardiovascular benefits. However, anyone with a heart condition should consult their doctor before starting any type of exercise routine.
Refrain from smoking
The first thing many smokers are concerned about is their lungs. Some fail to realize smoking cigarettes is extremely bad for their heart. Even secondhand smoke can make heart conditions worse, which is why your environment is so important in minimizing heart disease risks.
Find ways to manage stress
People who experience chronic stress are at a higher risk for cardiovascular health problems. High levels of stress are known to contribute to high blood pressure and hypertension. Every time we get stressed our body responds by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which causes inflammation. Chronic stress can also cause unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
Don’t neglect your health
If a parent or sibling developed a heart condition before the age of 55 (males) or 65 (females), you could have an increased risk for heart disease. One of the best ways to gauge your risk is to have an annual checkup with your primary care physician. They can monitor your current health as a baseline so you know if there are changes from one year to the next. If your heart health does start to slip, your doctor can pinpoint the problem and provide recommendations for correcting it.
Article by Layla Davis