World Heart Day is celebrated every year on September 29th. This global campaign highlights the actions that we each can take to prevent and control cardiovascular disease (CVD). Created by the World Health Federation, World Heart Day raises awareness around the globe that CVD, including heart disease and stroke, claims 17.9 million lives each year?, making it the world’s leading cause of death. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
By making just a few small changes, we can reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as improve our quality of life and set a good example for the next generation. That’s why this year’s mission of World Heart Day is to create a global community of Heart Heroes — uniting people from all walks of life who will take action to live longer, better, heart-healthy lives.
So how can you be a Heart Hero? It’s really about asking yourself, your loved ones and others around the world: “What can I do right now to look after my heart … and your heart?”
A healthy diet and lifestyle is your best defense to fight cardiovascular disease. These four heart-healthy habits offer long-term benefits to your health and your heart.
- Get active. Exercise and physical activity are magic bullets against heart disease and other chronic conditions. For adults, the surgeon general recommends two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise and two sessions of at least 30 minutes each of weekly resistance training. You can spread the aerobic activity throughout the week, such as 30 minutes five days a week, or 50 minutes three days a week.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease. Carrying extra pounds, especially around the belly, increases the amount of work your heart has to do to pump blood throughout your body. If you are overweight, losing just 5% to 10% of your starting weight can make a big difference in your blood pressure and blood sugar.
- Enrich your diet. Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and related conditions, such as atherosclerosis. Add fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fat, lean protein (from beans, nuts, fish and poultry), and low-sodium herbs and spices. Cut down on processed foods, salt, rapidly digested carbohydrates (from white bread, white rice, potatoes and the like), red meat and soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men should have no more than two drinks per day and women only one.
The Five S’s
As you take heart-healthy actions like these, don't forget about some often-overlooked habits for beneficial lifestyle improvements.
- Smoking. Tobacco use greatly increases your risk of heart disease. If you do smoke, quitting is the biggest gift you can give your heart. Secondhand smoke is also toxic, so avoid it whenever possible.
- Sitting. Sitting too much may raise your risk for heart disease. Our bodies are meant to move. Exercise doesn’t have to be formal. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, bike to work if that’s feasible or do sit-ups while watching TV.
- Sleep. Most adults need around seven hours of sleep, but you may need more. You need quality sleep, too. If you have sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to wake up many times during the night, you won’t get the quality sleep you need. Sleep apnea can put you at risk for stroke.
- Stress. Everyone is affected by stress, and if prolonged, it can do a number on your heart. Incorporating a daily stress release can be incredibly beneficial. Examples of this range from meditation, prayer, contemplative walks or taking up hobbies like gardening, birdwatching, swimming or dancing.
- Salt. Excessive salt (sodium) can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that most people consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Know Your Numbers
Your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI) numbers don’t have to be a mystery. They are critical to your heart health and regular monitoring can help you reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you don’t know your numbers, make a doctor’s appointment to get checked and develop a plan for your health.
The Changing, Aging Heart
Although CVD can affect people of any age, the risk increases as we grow older. The majority of Americans affected by cardiovascular heart disease are 65 or older. As we age, our blood vessels gradually lose some of their elastic quality, which can contribute to increased blood pressure. Fibrous tissues and fat deposits can develop in the heart, resulting in a slower heart rate and increased risk of abnormal rhythms. Getting older is inevitable, but many lifestyle adjustments can help counter some of the effects of aging on the heart and can help a younger heart stay in better condition.
On this year’s World Heart Day, Orlando Health encourages everyone to take a moment to reflect on what we each can do to fight cardiovascular heart disease and stroke. It is never too late — or too soon — to start making simple, healthy lifestyle choices and becoming a true heart hero.
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