Heart disease is common in the United States, and many of us know that it can be challenging to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle at times. As we age, our risk for cardiovascular health concerns only rises. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. This statistics isn’t meant to scare you, but rather inspire healthy lifestyle changes and adjustments.
Understanding the Leading Cause and Misconceptions
So, what is the leading cause of heart disease? While there are many contributing factors, doctors agree that there is one major facet of the American diet that increases our risk of heart disease: refined sugar. Fortunately, it’s something we can fix.
A huge misconception in the American food and nutrition industry is the idea that sugar only comes in the form of candy bars and sweet treats. if you avoid desserts at all costs, you may think you’re in the clear. Unfortunately, this notion is where a lot of people end up hurting themselves. Refined sugar is in almost every pre-packaged or processed food, even salty Cheez-Its or “healthy” protein bars. In fact, even processed white bread contains a multitude of refined sugars that can sneak up on us and increase risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The idea that excessive amounts of sugar are harmful to our health is something that is ingrained in us from the day we could pick out our own food. But how exactly does sugar affect us? Essentially, sugar interferes with our body’s natural insulin production and regulation. When we have an excess amount of sugar, our body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate the amount of sugar we’ve consumed, so while some gets turned into glucose, the excess sugar gets turned into fat. A continuous cycle of this excess consumption leads to insulin resistance, which is where health issues start to arise. Chief cardiologist at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Dr. Jonathan Fialkow (FACC, FAHAD), explains that insulin resistance results in obesity and inflammation, which increases our risk for autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
What Do We Do?
Luckily, our diet is something we can adjust almost instantaneously, even as soon as our next meal. Dr. Fialkow explains that it takes a while for cardiovascular disease to turn into something more serious, such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, or a heart attack. This means that one slice of cake or the occasional cookie won’t create devastating effects on your health; but it’s important to remember that these occasional treats can add up quickly.
He states, “Take a long-term healthy approach to living. Don’t stress about eating a few chocolates, but do incorporate heart-healthy lifestyle choices in your everyday routine.”
10 Tools to Prevent Heart Disease
In a recent webinar with Belmont Village, Dr. Fialkow outlined his top 10 tools to prevent heart disease:
- Don’t Smoke: If you do smoke, consider reducing the amount you smoke and quitting wholly if you can.
- Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet: Stick to fruits and vegetables whenever possible! Indulging in a treat every once in a while is okay, but avoiding processed and refined foods is key.
- Maintain an Ideal Body Weight: The main goal is to keep a BMI of under 30 to remain healthy. Any BMI over 30 ventures toward obesity which increases our risk for other health concerns.
- Reduce Stress: Turn off your phone and relax! Getting quality sleep is one of the major factors in reducing our stress levels, so make sure you’re prioritizing a healthy sleep environment and routine.
- Daily Exercise: Physical activity is one of the biggest ways to avoid cardiovascular complications. Take a walk with a friend or garden while listening to some music.
- Lipids and Lipoproteins: These help your body conserve and store energy. Monitoring fatty foods like nuts and oils can help you maintain a healthy level of lipids and lipoproteins.
- Healthy Blood Sugar: Monitor your glucose levels and maintain a healthy blood sugar level by staying in your target range (discussed with your primary care physician). This can increase energy levels and even boost your mood!
- Healthy Blood Pressure: Two of the easiest ways to maintain healthy blood pressure are by reducing your sodium and caffeine intake and staying active.
- Maintain an Optimal Vitamin-D Level & Take Omega-3 Supplements: Vitamin D is best absorbed when taken in conjunction with fats and oils, so consider taking a fish oil pill or other form of Omega-3 with your Vitamin D supplements.
- Treat Inflammatory Diseases: Inflammatory diseases can range from heart disease to rheumatoid arthritis. By treating these health complications through a method discussed with your primary care physician, your body will be best equipped to maintain optimal heart health.
Prioritizing your heart health through these steps, most importantly through a healthy diet and exercise, will ensure you are best equipped to take on the challenges that come with aging. Learn more about successful aging, including heart-healthy nutrition and maintaining brain health, by watching our Whole Brain Fitness: A Road Map to Successful Aging webinar.