According to a recent report by the American Heart Association, almost 1 in 2 Americans have evidence of heart disease. In addition, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. As the heart and brain are intimately connected, having heart disease can have detrimental effects on the brain as well. Heart disease can place one at risk for dementia as well as stroke. Stroke is also prevalent in the United States, ranking as the top reason for disability and 5th cause of death according to the American Stroke Association.
How can you reduce your risk for both heart disease and stroke? Fortunately, heart disease and stroke risk factors can be mitigated with the same preventative measures.
Identify your risk factors
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and pre-diabetes are major risk factors for the development of heart disease and stroke. See your physician for a complete physical examination and identify your risk factors.
Blood Pressure Goal
<120 mmHg/80 mmHg
Total Cholesterol <200 mg/dL
LDL 'Bad' Cholesterol <100 mg/dL
HDL 'Good' Cholesterol
>40 mg/dL - Men
>50 mg/dL - Women
Blood Glucose Goals
Blood Glucose <100 mg/dL
Hemoglobin A1c <5.7%
Reduce your risk factors
Once you identify your risk factors, in addition to your individualized treatment plan, diet and exercise are two of the most powerful tools that can be used to prevent heart disease and stroke.
From the ketogenic to paleo to vegan diet, the options for a dietary plan can be overwhelming. Nonetheless, there are general guidelines that you can follow to improve your diet, regardless of the plan you choose.
· Reduce sodium intake. Avoid fast, processed and canned foods, as these are sources of high sodium.
· Choose fresh produce when available. Farmers’ markets and other local produce shops often have great selections of fresh produce at a reduced cost. If fresh produce is not an option, opt for flash frozen produce, as this method of freezing preserves nutrients.
· Avoid high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener often found in a variety of processed foods: soft drinks, juices, dressings and sauces, boxed dinners, canned foods and bread.
Cardiovascular exercise greatly reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Two values are important when creating goals for exercise and weight loss: body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. Having an elevated BMI and increased abdominal fat increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Goal BMI <25 kg/m²
Goal waist circumference
<35 inches - Women
<40 inches - Men
Aim to exercise for 30 minutes per day, at least 5 days per week
· Walking is a great way to improve cardiovascular health.
· Weather woes? Seek out an indoor track or local gym.
· Utilize mobile apps and social media! There are tons of free apps and workout videos available to help you reach your fitness goals in the comfort of your home.
Before starting a new diet and exercise plan, identify your risk factors and discuss your options with your physician. A nutritionist may also be helpful in assessing and formulating a treatment plan for your dietary needs.
· “Cardiovascular Diseases Affect Nearly Half of American Adults, Statistics Show.” About Heart Attacks, 31 Jan. 2019, www.heart.org/en/news/2019/01/31/cardiovascular-diseases-affect-nearly-half-of-american-adults-statistics-show.
· “About Stroke.” Stroke Treatments, www.strokeassociation.org/en/about-stroke.
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