Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer in Australia? Some people may think that this disease only affects individuals who are obese. But the reality is that obesity is just one of the major factors that leads to the development of cardiovascular disorders.
Cardiovascular disease includes health problems affecting the heart and blood vessels such as stroke, heart attack, heart arrhythmias, heart defects and other disorders of the heart, veins, arteries and capillaries.
Are You at High Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease doesn’t kill at random. There are some people who are at higher risk of developing heart disease. You can check your predisposition by asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you 50 years old or above?
- Do any of your family members or relatives have high blood pressure problems?
- Has anybody from your family ever had a heart attack?
- Has someone from your family had a stroke?
- Has anybody from your family had any type of heart disease or blood vessel disorder?
If the majority of your answers are YES, then you have to be extra careful with your heart. Men who are 50 years old and above and those individuals with a family history of cardiovascular disorder often have the highest risk of developing cardiovascular problems. Your age, gender and genetic predisposition are beyond human control, but this doesn’t mean it is impossible to prevent cardiovascular disease.
In the latest data (Cause of Death Data 2011) released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there are over 21,000 Australians who died from heart disease. Hence, the National Heart Foundation of Australia considers cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death in the Australian community.
To prevent cardiovascular disease, we have to divert our attention to the risk factors that can be controlled such as:
- Elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) level
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Obesity, and
These are the factors that increase your chance of having cardiovascular problems, particularly when you are predisposed already. However, these are the same factors that we need to manage and modify to prevent cardiovascular disease. Managing these factors means modifying your lifestyle. You don’t need to implement the changes abruptly; just do it one step at a time. However, make sure that you remain consistent with your lifestyle changes for long-term health benefits. Here are 6 steps you can take to get started with your journey towards a healthy heart
6 Steps to Help You Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #1: Exercise at least 10 minutes daily.
How often do you exercise? The recommended exercise per week is at least 1 hour of moderate physical activity, particularly for people whose weight is within the normal range. If you are overweight, you may need to increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of your exercise to achieve the maximum benefit and prevent cardiovascular disease as well as lose weight. The main thought is that everybody needs regular exercise, even if you are not obese or overweight.
However, most of the time it is difficult to commit to a 1-hour exercise routine, or even 30 minutes continuous physical activity on a weekly basis. There are moments when you just feel too lazy to move around, or you don’t want to be disrupted from your work for long periods. Every second counts in a busy life, and getting work done on time is important. However, sedentary lifestyle (physical inactivity) results in obesity, which is another risk factor of cardiovascular disease. Don’t let the risk factors build up, as your chances of having the disease also increases.
To make it easier for you, create a routine that doesn’t take much of your time. Instead of scheduling 1 hour or more every week, why don’t you try a 10-MINUTE WORKOUT every day?
When you find yourself sitting for a long time, try walking around, or even walking in place for two 5 minute sessions. When you’re at home, take your dog (if you have one) for a short walk or walk up and down the stairs. Housekeeping activities are also considered moderate physical activities. You can also find some simple, short aerobics routine on the web and do the first 10 minutes.
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #2: Eat heart-friendly foods.
In general, you need to avoid or at least limit eating foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fat content. Always keep in mind that your saturated fat intake must be less than 10 percent (<10%) of your daily total calorie consumption.
Foods rich in trans fat include:
- French fries and other deep-fried foods
- Baked products
- Ice cream
- Ground beef
- Frozen or creamy drinks
Foods rich in saturated fat include:
- Foods cooked in coconut or palm oil
- dairy products (milk, butter, cheese,whipped cream)
- dark chocolate
- red meat and processed meats
When buying food products, don’t forget to check the label. Watch out for the terms “saturated fat, trans fat and partially hydrogenated.” These are the fats that you need to limit or avoid as much as possible to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
On the other hand, not all fats are hazardous to health. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats, which are abundant in plant-sources such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and most fruits and vegetables.
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains to keep your heart healthy. Instead of eating red meat as source of protein, which is also high in saturated fat, you may want to try fish and beans as alternative sources. Besides, fish is also rich in omega-3, a fatty acid that has been identified as good for the heart.
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #3: Keep your weight within normal range.
Obesity and excess weight are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.” Body mass index (BMI) is commonly used to determine if a person is obese or overweight. Try using this BMI calculator to check whether your weight is healthy for your height. If your BMI is 25 or higher, then you are overweight. If your BMI is 30 and above, you are considered obese.
On the other hand, BMI does not measure the amount of fats in your body. Even some people who are very muscular may have high BMI, as muscles are heavy. Therefore, you can use another tool aside from BMI, such as waistline measurement, to double-check your results. If you’re a male, your waistline must not be more than 102 cm. (40 inches). Otherwise, you’re considered overweight. For females, your waist must not measure more than 89 cm (35 inches). Remember that excessive fat deposits in your body increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, keeping your weight within normal range is not just about monitoring your body and weight measurements. It involves your overall lifestyle, diet and healthy habits. Now ask yourself, “Am I overweight?”
If your answer is YES, take action now! Start trimming down your weight to prevent cardiovascular disease. You may try Beyond Slim Weight Loss Program, a healthy weight loss program designed for your particular needs.
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #4: Get adequate sleep.
Do you get 8 hours of sleep every night, or are you mostly sleep deprived? Adults are recommended to have 8 hours of sleep each night. Although some studies accept 6 or 7 hours of sleep to be healthy, 8 hours is the ideal. Otherwise, you will have a higher risk of having cardiovascular disease.
According to the Harvard Health Publications of Harvard Medical School, sleep deprivation increases the levels of substances related to the body’s inflammatory response, which is a major contributing factor to the development of heart disease.
Moreover, sleep deprivation can make you fat. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, increases when you sleep less than what is required, while leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating, decreases eventually. Consequently, this hormonal imbalance between leptin and ghrelin levels will trigger bouts of hunger and abnormally increased appetite, which may lead to weight gain or obesity. Take note that obesity is one of the main causes of hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders.
On the other hand, it is not enough to have 8 hours of sleep. You also need to consider the quality of your sleep. Quality sleep means restful and uninterrupted sleep. Mostly, we may spend 8 hours or more in bed, but it does not ensure that we get the sleep we need, particularly when we are stressed out.
To achieve quality sleep, it is best to have a consistent schedule for your sleeping time as well as when you wake up. Likewise, make sure that you don’t take home your work issues and deadlines. If there are lots of things bothering your mind, write them down on a to-do list and deal with them when you wake up in the morning. Condition your mind so that when you’re in bed, it is time to rest. Get rid of the habit of finishing some work in the bedroom.
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #5: Stop smoking.
The chemicals in cigarettes or other tobacco products cause atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries. Hence, health measures to prevent cardiovascular disease must be paired with anti-smoking campaigns.
Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, which depletes the presence of oxygen in the blood. This forces your heart to work double time to provide adequate oxygen for your body by pumping blood faster, which also increases your blood pressure.
Smoking also alters the properties of the blood cells and blood vessels, making them susceptible to a build-up of fat deposits. This further elevates the blood pressure and increases the possibility of blood clots forming within the blood vessels. Remember that dislodged blood clots either from the veins or arteries in the different locations of the body can block a blood vessel within the brain, resulting in stroke, while a blood clot that obstructs a blood vessel within the heart can lead to a heart attack.
Indeed, smoking can lead to various health problems, including cardiovascular disease. However, the addictive chemicals in cigarettes make it difficult for smokers to walk away from their smoking habit. But no matter how difficult it is, there’s a way to quit smoking! To get started, remember three important words: distraction, reminder and reward.
Whenever you crave a smoke, keep yourself busy with something. Find a task to distract your thoughts about smoking. Some smokers resort to chewing gum to keep their mouths busy. You may also do some household chores, read a book, search the web for anything to divert your mind or try some relaxation techniques such as meditation or Qigong.
List down your reasons why you wanted to stop smoking and save it in your mobile phone. Every time you think about smoking, check your list to remind yourself why you have to quit. Remember the health benefits when you quit as well as the possible detrimental effects smoking can impose on your health. Think of how much money you can save if you quit smoking and how much money you burn in every cigarette.
Rewarding yourself every time you overcome your cravings can keep you motivated to quit smoking. What’s the best gift you can think of that you’ve always wanted?
Prevent Cardiovascular Disease Step #6: Visit your doctor regularly for health screenings.
Monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol level is significant for cardiovascular disease prevention. Have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years if you don’t have a family history of cardiovascular disease. Otherwise, have a blood pressure screening once a year. For cholesterol level, you can have it checked once every five years, particularly if you have other cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.
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