Heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death globally, accounting for 15.2 million deaths in 2016. (1) In adults aged 45–69, they are also the leading causes of life years lost through disability and deaths worldwide. (2)
The good news is that heart disease and stroke are both preventable. Being aware of the following risk factors, and making a few lifestyle changes, can help prevent health problems long-term.
1. LOWER CHOLESTEROL, BLOOD PRESSURE AND GLUCOSE
While anticoagulation medication can be an excellent tool to manage high cholesterol and blood pressure, research shows adopting a healthy lifestyle from childhood is just as important for minimising risk of stroke. It’s widely recommended that your total cholesterol is less than 200Mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood). Blood pressure should be 120/80 or lower and fasting blood sugar less than 100 Mg/dL for optimal heart health. (3)
2. EAT A LOW-SALT, LOW-FAT DIET
Eating a healthy diet is key to keeping your heart healthy. Avoid foods that contain trans-fats (partially hydrogenated fat) such as margarine, processed meats or other highly processed foods, and replace these with unsalted nuts, seeds, vegetables, lean protein and unsaturated fats. You should also try to meet shortfalls in nutritional needs, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and fibre, by eating more non-fat dairy and foods that contain these electrolytes. (3)
|THE DASH DIET (3) Some experts recommend following the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure. This includes: • 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day • Two 3.5 oz. (app. 100 grams) servings of oily fish per week • Three 1 oz. (app. 30 grams) servings of fibre-rich wholegrains per day • Less than 1500mg of salt per day • Less than 450 calories of sugar-sweetened drinks per week|
3. LOSE EXCESS WEIGHT
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute defines normal body weight as a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. (4) BMI stands for Body Mass Index. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) by the square of your height in metres (m). Studies have shown people who have a healthy weight have lower overall incidence of heart disease; and those with a BMI of less than 22 also have more favourable outcomes. (3)
4. STOP OR REDUCE SMOKING
The health consequences and data to support stopping or reducing cigarette smoking is overwhelming and have been reviewed extensively everywhere. (5) But for people who have smoked for many years, it can be easier said than done. You could talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medication to help you quit – and make sure you get plenty of support from friends and family.
5. TAKE MORE EXERCISE
Regular exercise reduces the risk of many different health problems and, when it comes to looking after your heart, any physical activity is better than none. Research shows the more intensely you exercise, the length of time you spend doing it, and the more often you do so, all have a direct and beneficial impact on your health. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intensive activity, such as brisk walking, although even small changes can make a difference. (6)
2. Lopez AD, Mathers CD, Ezzati M, Jamison DT, Murray CJL. Global and regional burden disease and risk factors, 2001: systematic analysis of population health data. Lancet 2006; 367: 1747-57.
3. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones et al. 2010; 121:586-613; originally published online January 20, 2010; doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192703. Defining and Setting National Goals for Cardiovascular Health Promotion and Disease Reduction: The American Heart Association’s Strategic Impact Through 2020 and beyond.
4. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. Bethesda, Md: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; 1998.
5. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Ga: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health: 2004.
6. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2008