Preventing heart diseases should be America’s top concern when it comes to our health. That doesn’t mean turning to medication for a magic fix, but looking at natural remedies for a healthy heart. And that comes down to lifestyle, making good choices and developing the right habits.
In America, coronary heart disease has become our biggest problem. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and high LDL “bad” cholesterol also all factor into the mix and raise our risk for heart disease. But the most significant factor is longevity. Our expected lifespan has jumped considerably thanks to modern medicine.
Scientists and doctors brought us drugs to treat pneumonia and almost eradicate tuberculosis. By 1930, the average life expectancy was 60. Today it has climbed to age 78. The sad truth is that people living much longer lives has opened the door to heart disease and stroke.
Is aging the cause? It is, but only because there has been more time for dangerous arterial plaques to build-up and cause problems. The combination of longer life and damaging lifestyles has increased the risk of cardiovascular disease. And many of us are filling our extra years with poor eating, smoking and little exercise. Effective tips for a healthy heart need some attention right now.
U.S. heart disease stats and facts
The numbers are sobering – and should be a wakeup call to make changes on how to improve your heart health and natural remedies for a healthy heart.
As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. That’s one in every four deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half the deaths in 2009 from heart disease were in men. And the risk of an 85-year-old man having a heart attack is 25 times that of a 45-year-old man.
In fact, every year about 735,000 Americans experience heart attack. From that number, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 of these episodes happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
The top three risk factors, just to point them out, are
- High blood pressure
- High LDL “bad” cholesterol
About half of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors, which makes understanding the causes and symptoms of heart diseases so important – along with good strategies, such as heart healthy foods, exercises for a healthy heart and healthy heart supplements.
Related reading: 7 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally
Causes and symptoms of heart disease
Preventing heart disease has a lot to do with understanding what’s behind it. The causes of heart disease vary. While cardiovascular disease (CVD) can refer to different heart or blood vessel problems, the term is most often used to describe damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries. Plaque build-up will thicken and stiffen the artery walls, which can restrict crucial blood flow through the arteries to organs and tissues.
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It’s completely preventable with good lifestyle habits, including not smoking, eating heart healthy foods, managing your weight, and exercising for a healthy heart.
Let’s go over the other types and causes of heart diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Heart arrhythmia: Causes of abnormal heart rhythms include the following:
- Congenital heart defects
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
- Drug abuse
Some over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies.
Congenital heart defects. Heart defects can develop before birth, as early as a month after conception as the heart develops, changing the flow of blood in the heart. Some medical conditions, medications and genes can lead to heart defects. For adults, too, as you age your heart’s structure can change, causing a heart defect.
Cardiomyopathy, a thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle: The most common type here is dilated cardiomyopathy, which can’t be explained. The cause could be reduced blood flow to the heart, infections, toxins and certain drugs. It also may be inherited from a parent. It usually dilates the left ventricle.
Heart infection: Pericarditis, endocarditis and myocarditis, occur when an irritant reaches your heart muscle, such as:
Valvular heart disease: Problems with heart valves have many causes. Some people are born with valvular disease, or the valves may be damaged by the following:
- Rheumatic fever
- Infections (infectious endocarditis)
- Connective tissue disorders
Now that we’ve covered the causes of heart diseases, let’s take a look at the symptoms of heart diseases. You might want to think twice about smoking and eating artery-clogging fast foods! It’s important to recognize the symptoms that may signal heart disease – and seek medical attention if you begin to have new symptoms or symptoms become more frequent or severe.
Related Reading: Heart disease risk factor, heart aging, differs in men and women
Symptoms of heart disease
Coronary artery disease: The most common symptom here is dramatic and hard to miss: Angina or chest pain. It’s that burning pressure in your chest. However, it can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.
Other symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
- A faster heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeats)
- Weakness or dizziness
Heart attack: Symptoms can be similar, including the following:
- Pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone
- Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm
- Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath
- Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling
- Sweating, dizziness, nausea or vomiting
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats
It is important to note that many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain. During an attack, symptoms usually last 30 minutes or longer, starting as mild discomfort that progresses into significant pain. Some people, however, experience heart attack without having any symptoms, which is known as a “silent” myocardial infarction (MI). This happens more often in the elderly and in people with diabetes.
If you think you are having a heart attack, call for emergency help. Immediate treatment can lessen the amount of damage to your heart and save your life.
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Prevention of heart diseases
When it comes to natural remedies for a healthy heart, the most important thing you can do is commit to lifestyle changes. Although you lack the power to change some risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, sex or age, there are some key heart disease prevention steps you can take.
A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise are absolutely essential. If you don’t treat your body right, your heart won’t hold up for the long-run, either. More on the right foods and exercise in a moment. You also need to maintain a healthy weight, de-stress, get quality sleep, and make sure you have regular health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
We mentioned the three main risk factors earlier, so take steps to address them.
Heart disease: Top 3 risk factors
First, quit smoking: Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis and, ultimately, heart attack. Additionally, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This will increase your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.
No matter how long you’ve smoked, when you quit smoking your risk of heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about five years. So worth the effort to quit! Talk to your doctor about best methods to kick the habit.
Deal with the other two: High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. Here, too, good lifestyle habits can bring these into the healthy range. It is interesting to note that 75 percent of people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure, and half of adults with hypertension don’t have it under control. People with high cholesterol are twice as likely to develop heart disease as people with normal cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle and heart health
The country with the lowest rate of heart disease deaths is France. This might come as a surprise, considering the French diet is high in dairy, fats and red meat – not to mention wine. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the country’s intake of dietary fiber in cereals, fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds helps protect the French from the common risk factors for heart disease. Everything in moderation!
Related reading: Do this to reduce your risk of heart disease by 92%
Foods good for our heart
Effective tips for a healthy heart start with what’s on your plate. To prevent heart disease, you want to do your best to avoid unhealthy food, and eat foods rich in nutrients, fiber and healthy fats. Top foods for our heart include:
Salmon and other fatty fish: There is plenty of evidence that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to have heart attacks. So do your heart a favor and eat at least two servings of fish every week, preferably the fatty kind, which are packed with omega-3 fish fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are all great choices.
Oatmeal and other whole grains: Oatmeal and other whole grains are high in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and help with better nutrient absorption in digestion.
Leafy greens and other vegetables: Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and low in fat and calories. Some of the vegetables for heart health to get onto your plate are leafy greens, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli. The American Heart Association recommends that at least half your dinner plate should be piled with vegetables.
Grass-fed meat: These tend to be much lower in total fat than grain-fed meat. A sirloin steak from a grass-fed steer has almost one-third the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grain-fed steer. In fact, grass-fed meat has as little fat as a skinless chicken. Meat this lean can help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. The other advantage of grass-fed meat is that it’s low calories.
Exercises for a healthy heart
What are the best heart-pumping activities to improve your cardiovascular health? Most importantly, you want to find something that you enjoy and do it regularly. Mix it up and try something new to challenge your body and keep yourself motivated. Get active every single day – and make sure to give your heart a workout for 30 minutes, five days a week, whether it’s brisk walking or hiking the trails, or one of the following best exercises for heart health:
Lane swimming: Easy on the joints (especially for seniors), lane swimming is an ideal workout for the heart and lungs. Build up to 12 lengths of the pool, varying your stroke or technique.
Running – A steady run or 10-second sprints followed by one or two minutes of fast walking (repeat four times) can raise your cardiovascular fitness.
Cycling: Get on your bike and feel like a kid again! Cycling uses large muscle groups in the legs to elevate your heart rate, which helps to improve cardiovascular fitness and burn calories.
Weight training: Push-ups, anyone? Weight training is excellent for people with heart disease. It builds muscle mass, which will help you burn fat, and it’s good for bone health and your heart. Options include using dumbbells or resistance bands. Proper form is key, so educate yourself first or work with a physiotherapist.
Yoga: What isn’t yoga good for? Stress reduction, mood, digestion and heart health. Yoga is great for strength and muscle toning. The more active styles of yoga such as Ashtanga and Bikram can offer cardiovascular benefits, as your heart rate is elevated throughout the class.
Improving your heart health comes down to you. Make heart-healthy choices when it comes to your diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits. Limit the risk factors that you have control over, like your weight, your blood pressure and smoking. There is so much you can do right now to keep your heart strong – and reap the benefits of good health and longevity.