Top 5 Ways to Naturally Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

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Heart health is important — really important. There is a reason that your doctor checks your blood pressure at every checkup. Cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and coronary heart disease are nothing to ignore. You might have heard these terms before, but what are the differences?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is a catchall term that refers to all diseases involving the heart or blood vessels. Heart disease is another umbrella term, this time for conditions that specifically affect the structure or function of the heart. And coronary heart disease, or CHD, also known as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis, refers to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

More than 800,000 Americans die from CVD each year, so understanding the risk factors and methods of prevention is critical for a happy, healthy future.

Risky Behaviors

Many factors influence your risk of CVD, including genetic elements. But because you can’t go back in time to pick new parents, focusing on lifestyle factors is key. These four lifestyle choices increase your risk of heart issues:

Sedentary lifestyle: A study published in 2010 found that sedentary behaviors — specifically watching TV and commuting — were directly linked to increased instances of cardiovascular disease. Men who reported more than 10 hours of commute time weekly had an 82 percent greater risk of CVD than those who spent fewer than four hours in the car. The same study showed that those who were sedentary more than 23 hours a week were 64 percent likelier to die from CVD than those who were sedentary for less than 11 hours a week.

Poor diet: Since the 1970s, the national narrative has been that saturated fat will make you fat, clog your arteries, then kill you. That information started a trend of low-fat diets that continue to this day, but unfortunately, the trend is misguided, and Americans have actually gotten fatter while following these guidelines. In 2010, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of … CHD or CVD.”

Poor sleep: Recent literature confirms that is associated with hypertension and coronary heart disease. The average person in Western countries gets an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night, which is down from an average 8.3 hours per night 100 years ago. This information is a bit deceptive, however, because too much sleep also carries risk. The key is to find the sweet spot, which appears to be seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Sleeping for fewer than six hours or more than nine hours is directly linked to an increased risk of mortality.

Smoking: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. is linked to cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. When combined with other factors such as a poor diet or sedentary lifestyle, smoking further increases the risk of CVD and mortality.

The Keys to Prevention

Now that you know some of the leading risk factors associated with poor heart health, here are five methods for preventing cardiovascular disease:

1. Add endurance and resistance training to your exercise regimen.

Time spent exercising improves aerobic capacity and cardiovascular efficiency. There is a positive correlation between endurance and resistance training and improved heart health. That’s because endurance exercise improves your body’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood more efficiently, and resistance training leads to lower blood pressure for longer periods after training. So stop wondering which is better; both cardio and weight training provide tremendous benefits.

2. Eat a balanced diet.

As we’ve already mentioned, saturated fat doesn’t make you fat, and it doesn’t negatively impact your heart health. And when you replace dietary fats with carbohydrates, those carbs become glucose in your body. From there, your body converts glucose into body fat and triglycerides, which increase your risk of CVD. A diet rich in fibrous vegetables and animal-sourced fats and proteins is much better for long-term heart health than a low-fat diet. Concerned that you won’t be able to keep up with a new diet? Consider using a meal delivery service to ensure you’re getting the food you need without the hassle of shopping for ingredients and preparing meals yourself.

3. Get enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to increased blood pressure, hypertension, and CVD. There are many factors that affect the quality of your sleep, but if you make a few tweaks to your lifestyle and diet habits, you should see a dramatic improvement. First, get on a regular sleep pattern. Your circadian rhythm dictates hormonal production, and an irregular sleep pattern can alter your rhythm, leading to poor health. Next, eliminate afternoon stimulants like caffeine and pre-workout supplements, which elevate cortisol levels and may lead to stress and anxiety that affect your sleep. Then, be sure to eliminate excess screen time before bed, as the blue light decreases melatonin production. In your diet, eliminate alcohol and add more magnesium. Finally, backload your carb intake to decrease cortisol and increase serotonin production.

4. Start meditating regularly.

A review published in 2014 confirmed the beneficial relationship between meditation and improvements in cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. Meditation has also been shown to decrease stress hormones, specifically cortisol. While cortisol production is essential for normal hormonal function, chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to major health problems, including heart disease. Managing stress takes practices, and techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help. You can also try participating in low-anxiety hobbies such as reading or listening to music.

5. Eliminate tobacco as soon as possible.

The number one thing you can do today to improve your cardiovascular health is to eliminate tobacco from your life. Smoking causes blood vessel inflammation, CHD, hypertension, and more. The good news is that cardiovascular disease risks associated with smoking improve immediately upon quitting. Within a year, risks associated with smoking are cut nearly in half. Within five years, risks associated with smoking approach the levels of those who have never smoked.

Heart health is a crucial part of your overall health — you can’t ignore it. Start with these five lifestyle changes and you’ll be on your way to a strong, healthy heart in no time.

Alan Bishop is the Director of Sports Performance for Men’s Basketball at the University of Houston. Alan has a master’s degree in Sports Conditioning and Performance and holds certifications through the NSCA, CSCCA, and USAW.

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