Heart Disease Prevention: Exploring Ways to Lower Your Risk

The world has seen its fair share of emerging epidemics, pandemics and health troubles lately, but one of the deadliest and most widespread diseases among people across the globe has been around for ages and is often overlooked: heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease:

  • Is the leading cause of death among men, women, and most ethnic groups in the United States
  • Killed around 697,000 Americans in 2020 alone
  • Is responsible for one death every 34 seconds in the United States

Thankfully, we’re not powerless in the fight against heart disease. Relatively simple steps like choosing the right foods and staying physically active can go a long way in lowering your heart disease risk. Let’s take a closer look at this condition and what heart disease prevention strategies are most effective.

The Basics of Heart Disease

First things first—what is heart disease? Also known as cardiovascular disease, heart disease refers to several problems that affect the cardiovascular system, which encompasses the heart and blood vessels including the veins, arteries and capillaries.

Some of the most common conditions and symptoms associated with heart disease are:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) – A buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries (also called ischemic heart disease)
  • Arrhythmia – An abnormal heartbeat, which may be too fast, too slow or irregular
  • Cardiomyopathy – A hardening or weakening of the heart muscle that interferes with blood pumping
  • Atherosclerosis – A narrowing of the heart’s arteries caused by plaque
  • Congestive heart failure – A long-term, progressive disease in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should
  • Heart attack – A sudden occurrence of coronary thrombosis, or a blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle

How to Prevent Heart Disease

The first step to preventing heart disease is to discuss your cardiovascular health and individual risks with your physician. Then, with your physician’s guidance, try putting these evidence-based heart disease prevention strategies into use:

Lose Excess Weight

Being overweight or obese places undue strain on the heart and blood vessels and can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which are the blood vessels that transport blood to the brain and other key organs. When blood cannot effectively travel through narrowed arteries, a heart attack, stroke. or vascular dementia may occur. Additionally, carrying excess weight around the midsection can spike blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels and damage the arteries.

Check out the CDC’s body mass index (BMI) calculator to see if you’re at a healthy weight. If your BMI falls into the overweight or obese category, try adding more physical activity into your daily routine and making smarter dietary choices. Your physician can help determine the best weight loss strategies for your specific needs and a realistic goal weight to shoot for.

Quit Smoking

People who smoke cigarettes have an elevated risk of developing heart disease and several other dangerous health conditions like cancer. According to the CDC, smoking is responsible for one in every four heart disease-related deaths. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, quit immediately and consider seeking support from the Florida Medical Clinic smoking cessation program.

Chemicals found in cigarette smoke damage cells that line blood vessels, causing the vessel walls to become inflamed and swollen. This makes it easier for vessels to narrow, plaque to accumulate and dangerous blockages to form. Here’s some good news, though—individuals who quit smoking lower their chances of heart disease almost immediately, and typically have about the same risk of a person who’s never smoked in five years after quitting.

Increase Physical Activity

Your heart loves exercise, but this doesn’t mean you need to sign up for a marathon or commit to a high-intensity workout regimen (plus, you should always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine). Rather, engaging in easy physical activities like brisk walking, swimming and bicycling is usually all that’s necessary to lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol and help maintain a healthy weight, all of which are essential to good heart health.

The surgeon general recommends around two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise for adults every week, or about 20 minutes per day. Children and adolescents should aim for an hour of physical activity every day.

Eat the Right Foods

Diet plays a key role in cardiovascular health and heart disease prevention. It’s a good idea to check in with your physician for individualized guidance regarding foods and beverages, but here’s some general heart-healthy diet advice:

  • Avoid highly processed foods, which can include white carbohydrates, fast food, syrups, jams, bacon and many pre-packaged snacks.
  • Limit foods that are high in saturated and trans-fats, such as butter and red meat.
  • Incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet.
  • Stay away from sugary candies, sodas, sweets, and other snacks (sugar can be hidden, so be sure to read nutritional labels!).
  • Be mindful of your salt intake—too much salt raises blood pressure.
  • Enjoy high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, oats and quinoa.
  • Do not drink alcohol in excess—men should have no more than two drinks per day, while women should limit their intake to one drink per day.
  • Follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, approved by the American College of Cardiology, which includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, eggs and extra-virgin olive oil.

Other Heart Disease Prevention Strategies

Finally, keep these tips in mind to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and achieve your best heart health:

  • Get enough good-quality sleep.
  • Limit stress—adjust your schedule, reduce your obligations or switch to a less stressful job, if needed.
  • Receive regular health screenings.
  • If you have diabetes, keep it under control.
  • Take all medications as prescribed by your physician.

Schedule an Appointment Today

To learn more about heart disease prevention, your individual risk factors or ways you can improve your cardiovascular health, schedule an appointment with Florida Medical Clinic today. You can contact Dr. Sameer Ahmed at (813) 528-4900 or request an appointment on our website when it’s convenient for you.

Meet Sameer W. Ahmed, MD

Florida Medical Clinic is pleased to have Dr. Sameer Ahmed as part of our cardiology team. Dr. Ahmed is board certified by the National Board of Echocardiography and the American Board of Internal Medicine in Interventional Cardiology, Cardiovascular Disease and Internal Medicine.  He also holds certification in Nuclear Cardiology. Practicing at our Wiregrass, Watergrass and Land O’Lakes locations, Dr. Ahmed takes a special interest in preventive cardiology and enjoys helping patients achieve their very best heart health.

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