The term heart disease describes a variety of conditions including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, and problems with the pumping function of the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. African Americans are more likely to die from heart disease than any other racial or ethnic group.
The disparities in heart disease outcomes are due to many factors including differences in access to health care or health insurance, as well as differences in access to healthy foods, safe neighborhoods, nutritious food, and exercise options. There are certain healthy lifestyle changes that we can all take in order to work towards better health and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Manage blood pressure
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. More than half of African American adults have high blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in a healthy range will reduce the strain on your heart, blood vessels, and other organs.
Have your blood pressure checked regularly and get it treated if it is too high. Getting more exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet with less salt, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco are examples of lifestyle choices that can lower blood pressure.
Control your cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that your body needs in order to function. There are two main types of cholesterol: good cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and bad cholesterol, or low density lipoproteins (LDL). Too much LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup and even clogging of blood vessels, causing heart disease and stroke. Good cholesterol can lower the risk of heart disease by preventing LDL from sticking in blood vessels.
Have your cholesterol level checked and know your numbers. Control cholesterol by choosing healthy foods low in cholesterol, trans-fats and saturated fats. Exercise regularly to raise your levels of good cholesterol.
Reduce blood sugar
Diabetes is the condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. In diabetes, carbohydrates and sugars that we eat and drink are turned into sugar, and blood sugar levels are too high. High levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. In order to reduce the risk of getting diabetes, limit the consumption of simple sugars (soda, candy and sugary desserts) and get regular exercise.
Exercise helps to prevent high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Exercise can also improve memory, mood, and reduce anxiety. In general, the more you exercise, the greater the health benefits. Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, on most days of the week. Include muscle-strengthening activity such as resistance or weight training at least twice a week. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.
Following a healthy diet is the most effective behavior to lower the risk of heart disease. In general, watch calories and eat smaller portions. Enjoy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins, poultry and fish.
Limit sweetened drinks, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and highly processed foods. Avoid trans-fat and partially hydrogenated oils that are often found in some commercial baked goods and fried foods. Pay attention to nutrition labels and choose products with lower amounts of sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excessive weight can increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Try to keep track of what and how much you are eating and increase physical activity.
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. With the help of your doctor or even an online calculator, you can determine your BMI and better understand whether you are at a healthy weight or need to lose weight.
Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the United States. Cigarette smokers have a much higher risk of developing heart disease. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health.
The more healthy behaviors you practice, the better your heart health. Small changes every day can add up to big improvements in your overall health. Make your health a priority. It is never too late to start.
Mosi Bennett, MD, PhD, is a board-certified heart failure and transplant cardiologist with the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to attend medical school and graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. He completed his internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and then cardiovascular disease and heart failure fellowships at the Cleveland Clinic.