Although the rate of cardiovascular or heart disease has been decreasing, it remains far too common of a diagnosis, and it is still the leading cause of death for those over the age of 55. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone over the age of 20 get regular screenings. You should know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, and body mass index, as well as be aware of any other factors which put you at risk for heart attack or stroke.
While it’s true that advancing age puts us all at risk, most of the other factors that increase the odds of a heart attack or stroke are actually diet or lifestyle-related. Experts agree that a healthy diet and lifestyle (which includes quitting smoking if you’re a smoker) are the best defenses against heart disease. The good news is that everyone, regardless of their age, can lower their chances of developing heart disease with these six simple steps.
Eat your fruits and vegetables. The advice that your parents gave you when you were young is even more important as you get older. The fiber found in all plant foods helps to lower cholesterol levels, and the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which all fruits and vegetables provide, keep arteries strong and reduce blood pressure. Eat at least 5 servings each day (more if you have high blood pressure) and strive for variety. The best choices include leafy green and brightly colored vegetables (such as spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes) as well as grapes, oranges, and any type of berries.
Skip meats that are high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat, such as sausages, hamburger, and most other cuts of beef. Eat fish and other lean meats instead. Any fish is good for you (as long as it’s not fried), but cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, rainbow trout, and sardines have the greatest amount of heart healthy omega-3 fat. Eating fish twice a week can help improve cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Good choices for lean or low-fat meats include chicken or turkey (without the skin), pork loin or tenderloin, and beef sirloin or tenderloin.
Go a little nutty! Snack on a handful of almonds, walnuts or peanuts instead of potato or corn chips. Nuts are a great source of protein and heart healthy fats. The fat in most chips will raise your cholesterol, while nuts can help lower it.
Spend some quality time in your kitchen. Preparing meals from scratch is the most effective way to reduce sodium in your diet and improve your blood pressure. Examine food labels for sodium content and strive for less than 2,400 mg per day. Skip the frozen dinners, canned soups, and packaged rice, all of which are high in sodium. Instead, add some zip to your meals with fresh or dried herbs, low salt seasoning mixes, and lots of heart healthy garlic.
Make half of your grains whole. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans urges all individuals to replace refined grains with more whole grains. Foods made with whole grains have more vitamins and minerals in addition to soluble fiber, which has been shown to decrease cholesterol. Replacing white bread, rice, or pasta with high fiber whole grain alternatives will help meet your daily fiber goal of 20-35 grams, and it could help clear your arteries of plaque build-up. Grains with the most cholesterol-lowering power include oat bran, whole oats, and whole grain barley.
Get moving! The most recent physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults (including those over the age of 65) aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense physical activity each week. Regular exercise is essential for anyone who wants to strengthen their heart, maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy life! To keep your workouts more interesting, strive for a balance between structured “exercise” such as walking, swimming, biking, and weight training, and daily activities such as vacuuming, gardening, shoveling snow, playing with the kids, or even dancing. If you find it hard to stick to an exercise routine, consider breaking up exercise into small chunks of time. Working out with a partner or friend, varying your workouts, and keeping an exercise journal can also be helpful to keep you motivated and consistent.
For more tips, heart healthy recipes, and information preventing heart disease, visit the American Heart Association’s website, www.heart.org.