According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing nearly 610,000 people every year. High blood pressure, cholesterol levels and smoking are the top risk factors, but there are other medical conditions and harmful habits that can increase your chance of developing the disease. Those include: having diabetes, being overweight or obese, following a poor diet, neglecting to exercise and drinking alcohol in excess.
Why else is it important to maintain a healthy heart as you age?
Taking great care of your heart to avoid cardiovascular disease is critical, but that shouldn’t be your only motivator. There are many other reasons to proactively maintain a healthy heart:
1. To maintain cholesterol and blood pressure
High cholesterol levels increase your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, but that’s not all. Unhealthy cholesterol in the blood can also lead to heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
High blood pressure levels are even more threatening to your overall health. Besides a heightened risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure, you’re also more likely to develop peripheral artery disease, angina, vision loss and kidney disease or failure.
2. To reduce feelings of depression
Did you know that cardiovascular disease can increase your chance of feeling depressed? Research shows that 33 percent of heart attack victims end up showing depressive symptoms, according to Barry Jacobs, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and director of Behavioral Sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program.
“The big message is that people need to be aware of this connection,” he told the American Heart Association, where he volunteers. “The second message is that many treatments are available. No one needs to suffer.
3. To lower your risk of developing dementia
There’s a connection between heart health and mental well-being, but it goes beyond feelings of depression. Research shows that poor heart health is also associated with dementia. When you don’t properly take care of your heart – with smart lifestyle decisions – you’re narrowing your blood vessels, which then limits the amount of blood that can get to the brain. Without proper blood flow, your brain can’t work the way it’s supposed to and you may have trouble making decisions, reasoning with others and remembering familiar faces and places.
“People often associate memory loss with Alzheimer’s disease, and they think it can’t be prevented or treated,” said Ralph Sacco, M.D., chief of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and former president of the American Heart Association. “But controlling your risk factors for heart disease can make a difference in slowing its progression.”
How can I take better care of my heart?
By making smarter lifestyle choices, you can protect your heart and reduce your risk for developing life-threatening conditions. Making these small decisions can have a large impact on the health of your heart and your overall well-being:
- Follow a heart-healthy diet
By eating more nutritious foods and removing unhealthy fats from your diet, you can fuel a thriving heart, reduce your blood and cholesterol levels and maintain your weight, according to the Heart Foundation. Eat more fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, and limit your salt and alcohol intake.
- Exercise regularly
Regular exercise will benefit your mental and physical wellness tremendously. Make sure you’re getting 150 minutes of physical activity every week as the CDC recommends.
- Avoid smoking – and smokers
Smoking is one of the biggest factors for developing cardiovascular disease, but second-hand smoking comes in a close second. Research shows that simply inhaling smoke significantly increases your risk for coronary artery calcification. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about quitting. If you’re not, avoid smokers as much as possible.
- Visit your doctor annually, if not more
By visiting your doctoring regularly, you’re being proactive about heart health. Your physician can make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are intact, mental health is stable and provide insight on ways to reduce your risk for developing dementia.
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