Your heart is an amazing organ. It beats 35 million times per year, works harder than the leg muscles of a sprinter, and pumps 2000 gallons of blood per day. If it stops, you will probably die within minutes, and yet many or us give it about as much attention as an old shoe.
Heart disease is truly an epidemic in America. It is still the nation's number one killer, with one in every 5 deaths caused by coronary heart disease (CHD). In the United States, there are about 1.2 million heart attacks every year, with about 40% of them causing death. About 70 million Americans (that's almost 25% of the entire populationof the US) suffer from some form of heart disease and don't even know it.
Heart-related problems fall into the category of lifestyle diseases. This means that they are largely preventable and often caused by our own lifestyle choices. Genetics do play a role in who is more likely to contract cardiovascular disease, but our self-neglect is the biggest culprit. Poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive drinking... all of these will increase your chances of heart problems.
But there's good news: Even if you've already had a heart attack and survived, there are measures you can take to improve your heart's health.
The first thing you need to understand is that the exact cause of heart disease is not known. In fact, there probably isn't just one cause. That's why it is so important to take a holistic approach to preventing heart disease. You can't just change your diet and keep smoking. Or stop smoking but continue to use your treadmill as a clothes rack. Here are some small changes you can make to care for your heart:
1. Throw out your deep fryer. Just changing your cooking methods can take a lot of fat out of your diet. Instead of frying food, tried roasting, steaming, or baking instead. If you need to pan fry, a small quantity of olive oil is far better for you than non-stick spray.
2. Eat fresh, natural foods. Refined (white) sugar and saturated fat are your enemies. Instead of greasy chips or microwave popcorn, try unsalted nuts or raw vegetables. Eat whole, fresh fruit instead of candy or chocolate. Eat whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta. This will give you more vitamins, more minerals, and more fiber, and it will help a lot more than just your heart.
3. Exercise regularly. You don't have to do two-hour sessions at the gym. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week is enough to keep your heart happy. And exercise doesn't have to mean buying expensive exercise equipment. Riding bikes with your kids, walking the dog, and even taking the stairs instead of the elevator all count.
4. Quit smoking. Don't use other tobacco products, either. By now we all know about the myriad of problems that smoking can cause, so I won't bore you with the details. Just quit - you need to.
5. Limit your drinking. Some studies suggest that moderate amounts of some alcohol may be good for your heart, but excessive drinking isn't good for anything. If you must drink, drink responsibly and moderately. For women, this means no more than 3 drinks on any given day, and no more than 9 per week. For men, the limit is 4 drinks per day and no more than 14 per week.
6. Take a nutritional supplement designed for your heart. Sometimes it can be difficult to eat right and exercise all the time. Or maybe you're at a higher risk of heart disease because a family member has already been struck by it. Whatever the case, try a heart-healthy supplement like Lipistat. Just remember: omega-3 fatty acids (a.k.a. "fish oil") are not the only ingredient in a high-quality supplement. Look for a supplement that contains the right quantity of omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols (or phytosterols), and vitamins E and B6.
Your heart is too important to abuse with poor diet and no exercise. Take care of it now, and it will take care of you for years to come.
Micheal Burns is a staff writer for Heart UpBeat, authorized distributor of