Longevity is important, but longevity with a high quality of life is MORE IMPORTANT! So what can you do to live both longer and better? This month, let’s look at heart disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heart disease can be prevented A LOT EASIER than treating it once it’s present! Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in many developed nations, what KEY heart disease prevention steps can we take to reduce our likelihood of heart problems? Here are six heart disease prevention strategies that we have FULL CONTROL over:

1) SMOKING CESSATION: This is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease prevention. It has been clearly shown that chemicals in tobacco damage the heart and blood vessels and can lead to narrowing of the arteries (“atherosclerosis”), which can result in a heart attack. The GOOD NEWS is that once you quit smoking, your risk of developing heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about five years!

2) EXERCISE: Exercise with moderate physical intensity (a brisk walk, for example) for 30 minutes, five to seven days a week. You can even break the 30 minutes into three ten-minute session to get similar health benefits. Gardening, housekeeping, going up and down flights of stairs, and walking the dog are other easy options!

3) DIET: A heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk as well! The Mayo Clinic recommends the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet as two great options. Simply emphasize fruits, vegetables, and lean meats (especially fish and poultry) and stay away from fast/processed foods (saturated and trans fats are the “bad-guys”).

4) WEIGHT: A Body-Mass-Index (BMI – use a height/weight calculator) of 19-25 is ideal, as a BMI over 25 is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight improves quality of life SIGNIFICANTLY and reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and reduces the risk of developing diabetes and some cancers.

5) GET QUALITY SLEEP: Sleep deprivation increases an individual’s risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and depression. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Feeling “refreshed” is the goal! Set a schedule and stick to it by getting to bed each night and rising in the morning at similar times.

6) PREVENTION SCREENING: High blood pressure (BP) and poor cholesterol levels can damage your heart and blood vessels, and regular screening can tell you whether you need to take action. Most guidelines recommend screening once every two years if your BP is over 120/80 mmHg. Those with risk factors like obesity and hypertension should get their cholestrol levels checked every five years starting at age 20; otherwise, healthy men should get their cholesterol levels checked every five years starting at age 35 and women at age 45. If you have a family history for any particular diseases or disorders, check with your doctor if screening is available and/or recommended at your current age.

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