Do these five things today to prevent heart disease tomorrow

Heart healthy vegetable bowl

The American Heart Association has long told us that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. Thanks to the long-term impact of COVID-19, that label isn’t going away anytime soon.

Why? One reason is that research indicates that the coronavirus can directly damage the heart and vascular system. The indirect effects of the pandemic are not to be overlooked either, as they too affect cardiovascular health.

You’ve heard of the “COVID-15,” the 15 extra pounds that many people have put on in the pandemic. It’s true — many of us have developed unhealthy eating habits, increased our consumption of alcohol and cut down on physical activity while sheltering in place and working from home. They can all contribute to a decline in heart health.

Add to that the mental toll of quarantine isolation and the fear that one might catch COVID-19. Is this feeling of fear and depression real? Oh, yes. About 4 in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder last year, up from only 1 in 10 in 2019, per research from the National Health Institute Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a result of the pandemic, people have regularly delayed or canceled routine appointments with their doctors. Without routine health care visits, heart disease and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels go undetected. If untreated, these can then lead to increased risks of heart attack or stroke.

The good news is that most heart disease and stroke deaths are preventable with appropriate medical treatment and healthy lifestyle behaviors.

I recommend that all people do these five things today to prevent heart disease tomorrow:

Eat healthy

A heart healthy diet lowers cholesterol levels and improves blood pressure, which can lessen the risk of heart disease. A heart-healthy diet includes numerous daily servings of vegetables and fruits, lean meats, legumes, healthy fats and whole grains, while limiting fatty foods, sugar and sodium.

Stay active

Regular exercise or light activity for 30-60 minutes each day immensely improves heart health. Exercise improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and prevents diabetes, all while leading to weight loss. Plus, it makes you feel great!

Lose weight

Keeping a reasonable weight helps reduce the risk of heart disease since obesity leads to chronic risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Maintaining a normal body mass index and waist circumference ensures a normal and healthy weight, as recommended by the American Heart Association.

Stop smoking (and avoid second-hand smoke!)

Smoking and other tobacco products damage the heart and blood vessels, while also causing lung disease and numerous cancers. Research shows that smoking cessation provides an immediate boost to your health, and the risk of heart disease greatly lessens over time.

Get screened regularly

Make sure you are tested on a regular basis for major risk factors for heart disease to ensure optimal heart health. Blood pressure readings, cholesterol levels and testing for diabetes are important to ensure a normal, healthy heart.

Expert Guide to Heart Health: Answers to more of your heart health questions

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