Cardiovascular disease, otherwise known as hardening of the arteries, kills over half-a-million Americans each year.  In fact, it is the leading cause of death in the United States. Three-quarters of a million people suffer a heart attack each year and 25% of them die from it.  

Did you know?

You have a 1 in 4 chance of dying from heart disease over the course of your life!  And it is not just for the old.

That’s right, though the incidence is lower when you are younger, don’t think you are unsusceptible because you are into fitness.  People die from heart disease in their 20’s and the rates climb into your 30’s and 40’s. This is due to a number of factors in spite of you hitting the gym 4 days a week.

What causes the cardiovascular scourge?

  • Genetics – did someone in your family have or die from it?
  • Nutrition – foods high in saturated fats (burgers, eggs, ice cream) increase the risk.
  • Smoking – increases the risk dramatically.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle – significantly correlated with cardiovascular disease.
  • Significant Health Risks – unmanaged disease states increase the risk.

Given below are 6 important tips which can be used to avoid risks of cardiovascular diseases

1. Keep a check on what you eat

Two specific nutritional factors are associated with heart disease: obesity and high saturated fats. If you are overweight, your risk of developing heart disease increases by 25-85%. We are not just talking about obesity that increases the risk to the higher end of the scale. Just having a BMI above 25 puts you at increased risk. 

Foods high in saturated fats also correlate with cardiovascular disease.  Does this mean that occasionally splurging on a decadent burger and fries will kill you?

No, but a diet based on red meat correlates highly with heart and other diseases. 

The key takeaway here is: get your BMI under 25 and skew your diet towards higher fruits and vegetables and leaner healthier protein sources like fish. Vegetarian, pescatarian and Mediterranean diets have significantly lower risks. 

2. Avoid mental stress and exhaustion

Believe it or not, the stress of your everyday lifestyle can affect your heart.  In fact, this association has been known since antiquity. 

The classic type A personality has always been correlated to heart disease but this may be a misnomer. It is not being hard-driving and meticulous that causes stress, rather it is environmental input producing daily stress that is the culprit.

Money issues, job issues, relationship issues, etc. are the main components that cause this stress. 

Though scientists are still not exactly sure how stress leads to this problem, we do know that it leads to higher blood pressure, hormonal changes, poor eating habits and loss of sleep.

You may not be able to eliminate all the stressors in your life. It is tough to drop everything and checkout from our mad pace society.  However, you can take up deep breathing techniques, quiet time, or meditation that will help.

Take advantage of many free apps to implement this in your life. Even lightly squeezing a rubber ball 8 minutes a day can be advantageous. 

3. Quit smoking and nicotine

Let’s face it, smoking is just bad. There is actually no redeeming qualities to it. Unless you are in Hollywood and for some ridiculous reason your director thinks it makes you look cool. 

It is not just smoking. It is also nicotine. In fact, even vaping without nicotine has been shown to significantly affect your health. 

So the key is to stop.  It’s hard.  It’s really hard. However, the physical addiction and thus withdrawal when you quit lasts about 48-72 hours.  The remaining urges are no longer physiologic, they are just habits you have to decide to break. 

4. Get adequate sleep

Your sleep can be disrupted for a number of reasons. Stress plays a role, being overweight can lead to sleep apnea, aging can affect your sleep patterns.

6-8 hours of good uninterrupted sleep is very beneficial for your heart. Short sleepers have 50% higher risk of dying from heart disease. 

It is easier said than done. Clearly, if you have sleep apnea this needs to be addressed as it is associated with elevated blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. 

This doesn’t mean you need prescription medication. Eliminating blue light (your cell phone, ipad, laptop) before going to bed helps improve sleep.  

In fact, blue light is known to be a better stimulant for wakefulness than caffeine. 

Some supplements that you can pick up at any vitamin shop can help you get to sleep and keep you asleep. I will always turn to melatonin, 5-HTP and milk protein peptides when I am having more than one night of poor sleep.

5. Exercise and workout

Proper exercise can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.  You do not have to spend hours in the gym. You do have to get your heart rate up. 

The typical way of improving your cardiovascular condition is by performing aerobic conditioning. That’s why people call it cardio.  To have a health benefit, cardio must be performed for 20-30 minutes while maintaining a heart rate at 60-80% or your heart rate maximum. 

This should be done 4x a week to derive benefit.

But I hate cardio. 

I don’t know why. It is not hard. I just hate running or being on an elliptical or bike watching the clock tick by until that magic time is up.

There is a shorter way!

Notice I said shorter, not easier. HIIT or high-intensity interval training will shorten the time necessary to gain even more cardiovascular benefit.

In HIIT, you perform all-out sprints (run, elliptical, bike, row, etc) for 30 seconds — it really needs to be as hard as you can go. This is followed by a 2-minute rest.  It can be a slow pace of whatever exercise you are doing or it can be a complete rest.  This is then repeated 4-6 times. 

HIIT will improve your anaerobic and aerobic conditioning as well or better than cardio and it will take you half the time. 

5. Control your cholesterol levels

Fats (lipids) in your blood called cholesterol and HDL are directly correlated with heart disease. In the USA, keeping your cholesterol under 200 is considered normal. However, if you want to lower and reverse the soft plaque (the yellow slime – literally) that builds up and coats the insides of your arteries, Lipidologists (doctors specializing in lipids) like your cholesterol under 150. 

Lowering cholesterol can be done a number of ways but it should be done if you have cardiovascular risk. It can be affected by changing your diet, adding flax to your foods, taking whey protein, supplementing with niacin, taking garlic, red yeast rice (that is a natural statin), and beta-sitosterol. There are numerous medications that can also be prescribed. 

6. Healthy Blood Pressure

A chronically elevated blood pressure will lead to heart disease. In fact, because it usually has no symptoms unless it is screaming high, we call it the silent killer. 

A normal blood pressure should be in the 120/80 range.  The 80 number (diastolic) is the pressure that is maintained constantly.  The 120 number (systolic) is the upper-pressure range that your blood vessels hit when the heart pumps blood out.

Your diastolic number has to be under 90.  The lower the better.  The systolic can vary with exercise, stress, and age but we also like it to be lower. 

If your blood pressure is high, you need to treat it. Elevated pressure can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease.  It can also be caused by numerous other conditions.

Everyone should get their blood pressure checked.  Free testing is often done at pharmacies and grocery stores. If it is routinely elevated, please see your doctor. 

7. Track your heart disease risk with the ASCVD calculator

The ASCVD Risk Calculator is a tool to determine the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It is available on Calculators.tech. Proper screening and diagnosis are important if you want to avoid the problems with heart disease. The ASCVD calculator will not diagnose your condition, but it will give you an idea of your likelihood of having it.

If you are at risk, make some changes in your lifestyle and please see your doctor. You can track the changes in your risks with the ASCVD Risk Calculator as these factors are improved.