Crushing chest pains, trips to the emergency room, heart attacks! These are common scenarios that happen throughout the world each and every day. After all, a heart attack is the number one killer globally. It leaves people wondering the same thing: How did this happen so suddenly? He was absolutely fine and strong, yesterday. What happened between yesterday and today? The time bomb finally exploded, but it didn’t happen between yesterday and today – it’s been slowly, and possibly silently, building up for months, years, and even decades. Your lifestyle choices are huge factors in determining your risk of heart diseases and there’s so much you can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen to you!
Every year, heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events claim the lives of millions of people around the world. Many die a sudden and often premature death. Those who survive these life-threatening conditions often go on to suffer from disabilities and a significantly reduced quality of life.
Many people know the risk factors for heart attacks, but few people heed the warnings. We know that smoking, high cholesterol, stress, and obesity can lead to health problems but it’s hard to imagine that these factors can turn a person into a ticking time bomb. There’s finally a medical term for the cluster of factors that are ingredients to this explosive time bomb: Cardiometabolic Risk (CMR). This includes high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood fats, high blood pressure, and enlarged waist circumference – over 40 inches for men and over 36 inches for women. If you have one of these conditions, you’re at a higher risk for having the other conditions and, therefore, a higher risk of heart disease.
It’s important to understand that heart disease is no longer just about the heart. Your entire vascular system, all the arteries in your body, are affected simultaneously. The walls of these vessels become damaged by the build-up of fatty materials and toxic foodstuffs, which is worsened by the effects of cigarette smoke and environmental poison. This is called atherosclerosis.
Eventually, blood flow through these vessels is reduced. This occurs in the arteries leading to your brain, down your legs, through your coronary arteries to the heart, and even to the vessels supplying your genitalia. The reduced blood flow in these areas, known as ischemia, may result in angina (severe chest pain), minor strokes (known as transient ischemic attacks), poor circulation in the legs (peripheral arterial disease), and erectile dysfunction. In fact, erectile dysfunction may be the very first sign of heart disease in men.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the risk of suffering the time bomb fate is preventable, manageable, and sometimes even reversible! The greatest value of the CMR is that it indicates to us that there may be impending damage. It’s never too late to begin defusing that time bomb! The challenge is to embark on a serious life-altering strategy that combines changing your diet, losing weight, quitting cigarettes, regularly exercising, managing your stress, and treating each of the components of the CMR cluster.
Now is the time to literally take heart and give your health a great boost! According to the American Heart Association’s hard data, five harmful habits foreshadow the development of heart disease: smoking, inactivity, carrying too much weight, bad nutrition, and drinking excessive alcohol.
Each habit alone, and more-so together, precipitates artery-damaging atherosclerosis. They do this by disturbing metabolism and disrupting cells and tissue functions. They also damage the markers of health we worry about so much, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Far too often, these poor habits result in heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. And the damage they cause isn’t limited to the cardiovascular system but extends to the entire body.
What can making better choices do for our health and longevity? According to findings from the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest investigations into major diseases in women ever conducted, women with a healthy weight, who exercised regularly, maintained a healthy diet with minimal alcohol consumption, and didn’t smoke were 85 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease in the course of fifteen years. This research was carried out by a collaboration of Harvard Medical School together with several Harvard-affiliated hospitals. The results were almost identical in a similar study in men. In these two studies, more than two-thirds of all heart attacks and cardiovascular events could be directly ascribed to smoking, excess weight, poor diet, and heavy drinking.
Five Strategies to Save Your Heart
You can rely on these five ways to protect your heart, your arteries, and your whole body and brain. They will make you look better, feel better, and live longer. And the good news is that it’s never too late to start!
- Invigorate your diet. Remove processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and high carbohydrates, including white bread, white rice, cakes, and cookies, from your diet. Instead, add more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good protein (from beans, nuts, fish and lean meats), and herbs and spices. A fabulous way to get your 5 to 7 servings of fruits and veggies a day is by making yourself a delicious and nutritious smoothie!
- Avoid smoking. If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. The smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is as toxic for your heart as it is for your lungs. Be aware that secondary smoke is also damaging for your family, especially young children.
- Embrace activity. Regular exercise is truly a magic bullet against heart and cardiovascular diseases. Utilize the ‘FIT’ principle – frequency, intensity, and time. The minimum requirement to cleanse arteries and condition your heart is at least 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise at least three times a week. In recent years, results of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) demonstrated significant benefits to heart health, immunity, and prevention of diseases.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight, especially around your belly, has detrimental effects on your heart health. It’s not just the extra weight, itself, but within that particular fatty tissue are inflammatory cells and harmful substances that can damage arterial walls. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can make a significant difference to your metabolism, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
- Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Although it’s true that a small amount of alcohol may be good for you, once you go beyond one drink per day, alcohol can be tremendously damaging to the body and brain. Be sure to limit your intake – one to two drinks a day for men and no more than one a day for women. The best choice is red wine as it contains the potent antioxidant resveratrol. However, fresh grapes are also excellent sources of this phytonutrient!
You don’t need to aim for a complete transformation all at once – just start somewhere today. Small changes in diet, exercise, or weight can make a big difference in your health and go a long way in defusing that ticking time bomb!