The most important steps in managing these factors are changes in daily habits.
In our previous article, we saw the various different risk factors that can influence your cardiovascular health. Many of these affect your metabolism, particularly your blood pressure, sugars, lipids, and cholesterol. The most important steps in managing these factors are changes in daily habits. Regular physical activity, sound nutrition, weight management, and stopping smoking all significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by over 80%. Unfortunately, only 5% of us follow this advice.
So what should you do to improve your cardiovascular health?
Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Compared to active individuals, the risk of disease in sedentary individuals is 150% to 240% higher. But less than half of all adults meet even the minimum recommendation for regular exercise. Even the younger generation is struggling, with only 20?hieving the recommended 60 minutes or more of daily activity.
The Centre for Disease Control in the US recommends at least 3 hours of moderately intense exercise per week. This can be a cycle or a brisk walk. But evidence shows that even a small increase in physical activity can result in a significant decrease in cardiovascular disease. 10 minute daily walks can add up quickly towards your weekly requirements.
To get started, make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing and shoes. The shoes should provide adequate support and fit well to ensure they don’t cause blisters. Clothing should not be restrictive and should not cause excessive sweating. For longer walks make sure you take water, healthy snacks, and sunscreen in a backpack.
For a brisk walk, you should aim for about 3 miles an hour (5kph). If you want to measure your speed you can use certain apps such as Strava or Active 10 app on your smartphone. If you are not used to walking, start slow and short distances, then increase speed and distance slowly. Do not start a marathon, you need to make these activities a daily occurrence.
If you aren’t able to walk because of joint problems, you can try exercises in the swimming pool. The water will support your weight and put less stress on your body. Swimming pools usually have structured exercise classes available.
Once you have your exercise routine planned, you need to keep the routine. Make it a habit, make it part of your day. For example, you can walk part of your journey to work, walking to the shops, using the stairs instead of lifts, and going for regular walks with the family.
Multiple studies have shown a diet containing more fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains and fiber lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Similarly lowering alcohol intake, red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and saturated fats is important as well. The American Heart Association has a nutritional guideline that can be followed. Modern guidelines have moved away from specific foods and nutrients to generalized changes in diet. The following dietary patterns have been recommended:
- Low fat diets
- Mediterranean diet
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
- Vegetarian diet
- Plant-based diet.
Additionally you should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables throughout the day. This can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. A portion is not a large amount, it can be just an apple, banana or pear. It can also be 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit, 30g of dried fruit, or 150ml of fruit juice.
Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor not just because of its association with other risk factors (diabetes, increased cholesterol, high blood pressure or metabolic syndrome), but also because increased abdominal fat can independently increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Just as weight is associated with factors including diabetes, lipids and sedentary lifestyle, the first steps in losing weight are making changes to your diet and exercise. When talking about exercise we said you should start slowly and keep it maintained for a long period of time. Similarly for weight loss it is best to follow a structured plan. These plans aim to limit calorie intake for men to 1,900kcal a day, and 1,400kcal/day for women. This leads to a safe weight loss of 0.5kg to 1kg each week.
Smoking is one of the most harmful activities for your health. It can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and multiple types of cancer. It also increases your blood pressure and causes damage to your blood vessels. Life expectancy can be shortened by more than 10 years.
Stopping smoking greatly reduces your risk of heart disease. It is important to know that stopping smoking for even a short period of time has a noticeable benefit. Stopping before the age of 40 reduces your risk of death by about 90%.
We should aim to keep blood pressure at around 120/80mmHg and aim to keep it below 140/90. In the elderly (above 80), this limit is raised to 150/90. Whilst medication has a role in reducing blood pressure, the first steps have already been discussed. Improving diet, increasing exercise, and stopping smoking.
Whilst this might sound like a broken record, its important to remember all of these factors are highly interlinked. It also shows just how important diet and exercise can be to your health.