In the previous post, I discussed what cardiovascular disease (CVD) is and what you can eat to lower your risk of CVD. CVD is the number one cause of death in the world, so adapting your diet and lifestyle to reduce your risk is extremely, extremely important. So, what can you do, besides eat well, to keep your heart healthy?
- Be active. Physically inactive people are at a significantly higher risk for developing heart disease. The vast majority of people are far too sedentary: they work in jobs where they get little to no physical activity and then spend the rest of their time commuting, watching TV, eating, and sleeping. Humans didn't adapt to sit all day, so it's hard to be healthy when that's what you do. Remember that physical activity is not limited to traditional working out. In fact, it's the small but consistent things you do overall that lead to the greatest health benefits. Set a reminder every 30 minutes that reminds you to stand up from your desk and take a minute to pace around. Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible. Park a little further away and walk the few extra steps to your destination. Go outside and play with your kids. All of these little things add up to major health benefits.
- Manage stress. Excessive stress causes inflammation and oxidative damage - big no-no's for health. Stress is an inevitable part of life so the key is learning to manage it. First, take a close look at your life and do your best to get rid of unnecessary stress. For example, if you know that being late makes you really stressed out, then make sure you allot enough time to get to your destination so that you can arrive stress-free. Second, make sure you have mechanisms in place to help you reduce the inevitable stress. Try yoga, acupuncture, creative expression, venting to your spouse, meditation, cuddling, talking to a therapist, or whatever other methods resonates with you. The point is that you must have something that you do regularly to reduce your stress levels.
- Laugh! Laughing is the best. It is an amazing release that makes you happy and lowers your stress levels - both important aspects of having a healthy heart. Spend time with friends, watch funny TV shows, be silly, and just do a bunch of things that make you laugh.
- Don't smoke. Even smoking as little as one cigarette a day increases your risk of heart disease by 40%. Smoking is terrible for the cardiovascular system and causes inflammation and oxidative damage. Also, don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol. That, too, significantly ups your risk for CVD.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Staying at a healthy weight for your body type significantly reduces your your risk of heart disease - and all other health problems, for that matter. Being either overweight or underweight puts you at a much higher risk for CVD. (Remember that skinny does not necessarily equal healthy.) Where you store fat is more important than the total amount of fat that you have. Visceral fat (fat around the abdomen) is the most dangerous and is associated with a much higher risk of disease.
- Go outside. For one, connecting to nature has been shown to reduce stress (see #2) and make people happier. Secondly, exposure to sunlight boosts vitamin D, a very important hormone that performs countless functions in your body. Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. It's worth noting that the vast majority of people are deficient in vitamin D and supplementation is often recommended and/or necessary. Ask your healthcare professional to run a blood test to check your levels. And, as always, it's wise to check with him/her before you make any changes to your medication or supplement regimen.
These six things in conjunction with the healthy diet discussed in Part 1 will not only dramatically reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, but will also make you feel healthier and happier all around. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Implement good habits now so that you don't need to take statins and other dangerous drugs in the future.