Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It’s also the number 1 killer in America. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, many studies show that regular physical activity can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Regular exercise has been proven to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, most Americans aren’t exercising enough. And even though we know the benefits of exercise, we often fail to make it part of our daily lives.
But there’s hope! There are simple changes you can make to get started. By making these small lifestyle changes, you can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and live longer.
But first, let’s find out
What is the cardiovascular system?
The cardiovascular system is made up of two major parts: the blood vessels and the heart. The blood vessels carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. They consist of arteries, which transport blood away from the heart; veins, which return blood to the heart; and capillaries, which connect the arteries and veins together.
The heart pumps blood through the blood vessels by contracting and relaxing. When the heart contracts, blood flows into the arteries. When the heart relaxes, blood flows back into the veins.
How does the cardiovascular system work?
When a person breathes, air enters the lungs and passes over the membranes lining the alveoli. Oxygen diffuses across the membrane and binds with hemoglobin in red blood cells. This process releases carbon dioxide and water vapor as waste products. The hemoglobin then transports oxygen to all the tissues in the body.
When the muscles contract, they pump blood through the circulatory system. As the muscle relaxes, the blood returns to its normal resting state.
What causes poor cardiovascular health?
Poor cardiovascular health can result from several factors. For example, if you smoke or drink too much alcohol, this will increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Also, stress, lack of sleep, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension can contribute to poor cardiovascular health.
Major Cardiovascular Diseases
1. Heart attack
A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked. Blood flow stops completely, causing damage to the heart tissue. If the blockage isn’t removed quickly, the damaged area of the heart may die.
In a stroke, a blood vessel bursts inside the brain. This deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients. Strokes usually occur because of a clot (blood clots) forming inside a large artery. These clots can break off and travel through smaller blood vessels until they reach the brain.
3. Coronary Artery Disease
In coronary artery disease, plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries. Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow. Over time, this can lead to heart failure.
High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It also increases the risk of other diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
5. Cardiac Arrest
If the heart doesn’t beat properly, it won’t be able to deliver oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Without oxygen, the brain dies within minutes.
Symptoms of Poor Cardiovascular Health
As mentioned above, many people don’t realize that their cardiovascular health is poor. But some symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, irregular heartbeat, leg swelling, nausea, weakness, and vomiting.
How To Improve Cardiovascular Health
There are many ways to improve cardiovascular health. You should start by making lifestyle changes. Here are some tips:
1. Quit smoking And Avoid Second Hand Smoking
Smoking is bad for your heart. And secondhand smoke is worse than regular smoke because it contains hundreds of chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, lead, mercury, carbon monoxide and cadmium.
Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, sore throats, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight gain, and depression.
2. Lose weight
Losing weight is a great way to lower your risk of developing heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends losing at least 10% of your body weight over six months to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).
If you’re overweight, lose 5% of your body weight each month until you reach your goal.
And remember, the sooner you begin, the better off you’ll be. So set a date today to begin your journey toward a healthier lifestyle.
3. Eat heart-healthy foods
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. The American Heart Association recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and veggies contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that help prevent heart disease.
Fiber helps lower cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, and prevents constipation. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which damage cells and lead to cancer. Phytochemicals protect against heart disease by reducing inflammation and preventing plaque buildup.
Eat at least two servings of fruit daily. Choose fresh fruit over canned or frozen because it contains more nutrients and fewer calories. Eat berries, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, plums, grapes, melons, tomatoes, watermelon, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, mangoes, cherries, apricots, figs, prunes, and raisins.
Choose dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, mustard greens, bok choy, romaine lettuce, arugula, and endive. These vegetables are rich sources of folate (a B vitamin), iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. They’re also loaded with fiber.
Add beans to your diet. Beans are packed with protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Try black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, white beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, and adzuki beans.
4. Eat Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate keeps your heart healthy because it contains flavonoids and antioxidants that help prevent blood clots. Flavonoids also lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Studies show that dark chocolate lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10% and raises HDL (good) cholesterol by 5%. Dark chocolate also reduces inflammation in arteries, making them healthier.
6. Avoid Overeating
Overeating is bad for your heart. But not eating enough is just as harmful.
If you’re overweight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. This means making healthy food choices every single day. And it doesn’t mean skipping meals; rather, it means filling up on nutritious foods instead of junk food.
7. Protect Yourself From Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The good news is that there are many ways to protect yourself against this condition.
One of the most effective methods is to eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help reduces blood pressure and cholesterol, and they’re essential for brain development and cell growth. They’re found primarily in oily fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and eggs.
8. Reduce Saturated Fat Intake
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal foods (meat, dairy, eggs) and tropical oils (coconut oil). They raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Saturated fats also contribute to heart disease and stroke.
To reduce your risk of heart disease, eat fewer saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats. Replace butter, cream, cheese, lard, bacon, sausage, chicken skin, duck liver, beef tallow, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and tropical oils with olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, soybean oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and wheat germ oil.
If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to these foods, try almond milk, egg whites, tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and hummus.
9. Choose Heart Healthy Fats
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America today. The American Heart Association recommends eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, walnuts, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, etc.) because these healthy fats help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and protect against heart disease.
But there’s another reason to eat heart-healthy fats — they taste great! And when you’re trying to lose weight, you need to keep calories in check. So instead of reaching for a bag of chips, reach for some nuts or berries. They’re full of fiber, protein, and antioxidants that will fill you up without adding too many extra calories.
10. Increase your dietary fiber intake
Dietary fiber is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas. Dietary fiber helps keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, reduces risk factors for heart disease, and promotes regular bowel movements. Fiber also slows digestion, making you feel full longer, and helping control weight gain.
Fiber is also important for maintaining skin elasticity and keeping hair strong and shiny. So add some fiber to your diet today!
11. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, boost immunity, and promote overall wellness. Plus, they’re low in calories and high in fiber.
The best way to get more fruit and veggie servings into your diet? Try juicing! Juicing makes fresh produce easy to consume, and it gives you an instant dose of nutrients
12. Eat low-fat dairy products to improve heart health
Low-fat dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, and skim milk have been shown to be beneficial for heart health. Low-fat dairy products tend to be higher in calcium than their full-fat counterparts, which may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
13. Get active
Regular physical activity has been linked to better heart health. Exercise lowers stress hormones and increases endorphins, which make us happier and less prone to illness. It also improves our moods, sleep patterns, energy level, and self-esteem.
Exercise is especially helpful if you’ve got high blood pressure or diabetes. If you don’t exercise regularly, start slowly by walking briskly for 30 minutes three times per week. As you build strength, increase your time and intensity. You’ll see improvements in your fitness within weeks.
14. Do resistance training
Resistance training builds muscle mass and strengthens bones. This type of exercise helps maintain bone density and muscle tone, both of which are essential for good cardiovascular health. Resistance training also helps burn fat and boosts metabolism.
Start with light weights and gradually work your way up to heavier ones. Here are some exercises you can try at home:
• Pull ups
• Tricep dips
15. Spend less time sitting
Sitting all day long isn’t good for your body. In fact, research shows that prolonged periods of sitting can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
If you spend most of your day on your feet, take breaks every hour to stand up and move around. Stand while talking on the phone, walk around during meetings, or even stretch your legs and arms.
You can also use a standing desk instead of a traditional one. Standing desks allow you to sit down when you need to, but they encourage you to stand whenever possible.
16. Avoid excess alcohol intake
Alcohol is bad for heart health. Drinking too much over time can raise cholesterol levels and cause fatty liver disease. Alcohol also raises blood pressure and reduces insulin sensitivity, two factors that contribute to heart problems.
17. Drink Plenty of Water
water is good for our heart because it flushes out toxins from our bodies, keeps our skin healthy, and helps keep our muscles strong. Drink water before meals and throughout the day to stay hydrated.
18. Take Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements for heart health
Omega-3 fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fats, which are important for maintaining normal heart function. They’re often recommended as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Fish oil supplements come in several forms including capsules, tablets, liquids, and powders. Choose a product containing EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These types of fish oils are considered safe for adults.
Fish oil supplements should not replace eating fish, however. The best sources of omega-3 fats include salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, and anchovies.
19. Keep Blood Pressure Under Control
High blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart. To reduce this risk, lower your blood pressure through diet and regular exercise.
The key to improving your overall cardiovascular health is to eat well, get plenty of rest, and practice good habits like exercising and avoiding tobacco smoke.
Bharat Sharma is a Delhi-based writer who loves reading and writing research-based topics revolving around health, fitness, and nutrition. His love for writing started during his teenage and continues till date. After his graduation, he worked for GE Money, and IBM, but later found his true love i.e. blogging.