Often, when young adults think of heart disease, they view it as a distant threat; something they’ll concern themselves with later when they’re “over 40” or when they begin to have health problems. While it’s true the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases with age, the choices you are making now, (poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and other unhealthy behaviors), can further increase the risk by causing plaque to accumulate, leading to clogged arteries and other problems later in life.
So why not take a reality check of your own habits and how you might be able to reduce your risks of CVD? Ask yourself:
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Have you ever used tobacco?
- Do you get 30 minutes of intentional physical activity a day above your normal daily routine?
- Do you eat five full cups of fruits and/or vegetables every day?
- Is your waist circumference 35 inches or less (women), or 45 inches or less (men)?
If you don’t like the answers to these questions, you can improve your health by modifying your behaviors now. Here are some simple suggestions.
Know your family history
Do your grandparents, parents or siblings have heart disease or diabetes? Make sure you share family history with your healthcare provider as soon as possible and follow doctors’ recommendations for controlling your risks.
Know your numbers and try to improve them
Here are the metrics you should review:
- BMI: a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. Try to keep it at 25 or below. Visit www.cdc.gov/bmi for a BMI calculator.
- Waist circumference: 35 inches or less for women; 45 or less for men
- Blood pressure: aim for a reading of 120/80 or below
- Cholesterol: aim for a total reading of under 200 with a HDL of 60-plus
Improve your fitness level
Nearly 80 percent of American adults don’t get the physical activity they need. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. As you exercise, your heart will become stronger over time.
Be intentional about making workouts a priority
Work out with a friend. It’s fun and helps you stick with it. Make exercise dates, rather than lunch dates. Here are some easy ways to squeeze in additional exercise:
- Take the stairs whenever possible
- Park further away
- Take a lap around the grocery store’s perimeter before you start shopping
- Speed-walk your errands
- Do 50 sit-ups as soon as you wake up
- Do something active for 5 minutes of every hour you are awake
Focus on healthier eating habits
Implementing healthy eating habits makes a difference in the long run. We recommend the following:
- Buy less junk food
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. They are rich in heart-healthy vitamins and minerals that assist in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Eat lean meats.
- Choose fiber-rich whole-grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy
- Don’t skip meals. This often makes you binge later.
Smokers’ risk of developing cardiovascular disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers. Consider whether you need to seek help for smoking addiction to learn to quit.
More about cholesterol
Cholesterol, a waxy substance that travels through our veins, plays a major role in heart health. Our bodies need it but it needs to be managed or it can cause plaque to accumulate, leading to clogged arteries, stroke and CVD. Types of cholesterol include LDL and HDL.
LDL (bad cholesterol): LDL contributes to plaque formation. Saturated fat and trans fat in the diet increases your bad cholesterol.
HDL (good cholesterol) HDL helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries reducing your risk of CVD. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils tend to improve vHDL’s anti-inflammatory abilities.
There are a few ways to help improve HDL:
- Quit smoking: not smoking can raise your HDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent
- Exercise: within two months of starting frequent aerobic exercise, you can increase your HDL by about 5 percent
- Eat healthier foods such as fruits, vegetable and whole grains
- Replace “bad fats” (saturated fat and trans fat) with “good fats" (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils) when possible
- Eat food rich in Omega 3 fatty acids —nuts and fish
- By making simple changes now, you can help minimize your future risk of cardiovascular disease