Heart disease and stroke are our nation’s number one killers. As we become more sedentary and more obese, heart disease is occurring in more severe forms and at younger ages. But, there are ways to avoid heart disease, if you understand the associated health issues and how to control them. Here’s an overview of the contributors to heart disease and how to minimize your risk by managing your life.
High Cholesterol Cholesterol comes in two forms. LDL cholesterol (low density lipoproteins) is what is known as “bad cholesterol”. When too much LDL circulates in the blood, it can build up in the inner walls of your arteries, where it forms plaque that hardens and narrows the arteries. This condition is called atherosclerosis.
Narrow arteries make it easy for a clot to form and cause a block, and they also restrict blood flow.
Peroxidation is the process that turns the cholesterol into the hard plaque that sticks to arterial walls.
HDL cholesterol or (high density lipoproteins) is what we refer to as “good cholesterol”. HDL cholesterol carries bad cholesterol away from the heart and deposits it to the liver so that it can pass from the body. We need this cholesterol to be high, because it protects us. When your HDL levels are too low, the LDL cholesterol is in control.
It’s important to understand your cholesterol levels and do your best to improve them if they’re not where they should be. Dietary cholesterol comes from animals and animal products. Eating a diet that’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol; avoiding things like butter, egg yolks and red meat, can help lower your LDL levels considerably. When you eat fat, make it the sort that raises your HDL levels, by including olive oil, canola oil and nuts in your diet.
Your cholesterol level is also affected by your heredity. Some families just have higher cholesterol than others, regardless of how much they watch their diet. If you fall into this category, you may need medication in addition to a healthy diet to get your cholesterol numbers in line.
High Blood Pressure The second important component in heart disease is blood pressure. High blood pressure has no symptoms, but it can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure if unmanaged.
The pressure of your blood puts beats against the walls of your veins and arteries.
This weakens the arterial walls and causes stress on the heart. The pressure can also cause little nicks in the arterial walls. Your body tries to repair these nicks by creating little blood clots. However, if these clots become too big, or break off and get stuck in an artery (particularly one already narrowed by plaque), it can result in a heart attack or stroke. That’s why keeping your blood pressure under control lowers your risk of heart disease. Have your blood pressure checked regularly to determine if you’re at risk. A healthy blood pressure is one that is right around 120/80.
The Big Five To get your lifestyle under control and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels so that you can minimize your risk of heart disease and stroke, there are four things you need to do.
Exercise Exercise is critical for preventing heart disease. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least 3 times a week. Regular exercise lowers cholesterol and blood pressure naturally, and can help keep your weight in check.
Eat Right Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Instead, focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein like fish and chicken. If you’re overweight, get down to a healthy weight for your height. A heart healthy diet will help you lose the extra pounds, too. Avoid processed foods with ingredients like enriched flour and high fructose corn syrup.
Don’t Smoke Smoking significantly increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Get Those Anti-Oxidants In the last few years, we’ve come to understand how powerful anti-oxidants are in the fight against disease. Anti-oxidants fight the free radicals that our body creates each day as we process our food. Without anti-oxidants to fight them, these free radicals damage our bodies’ cells and DNA. This leads to disease and premature aging.
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