Buckeye Community Health Plan Shares Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

Buckeye Community Health Plan (BCHP) offers tips for heart disease prevention that can save lives
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“According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country.,” said Ronald Charles, MD, vice president for medical affairs for Buckeye Community Health Plan. “About 715,000 Americans have a heart attack every year, and approximately 600,000 people die annually from heart disease—that’s one out of every four deaths.” 

Many heart attacks and some heart disease can be prevented by following some basic guidelines, Dr. Charles said.

“Heart disease is a leading cause of death, but there is much people can do to prevent it. Although we may not be able to change some risk factors, such as family history, sex, or age, there are some key heart disease prevention steps people can take. By adopting a healthy lifestyle today, we can avoid heart disease down the road,” Dr. Charles said.

He offered the following prevention tips:

1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes are also risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

The good news, though, is that when a person stops smoking, the risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much a person smoked, they start reaping rewards as soon as they quit.

2. Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week

Getting some regular daily exercise can reduce the risk of fatal heart disease. Combining physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, yields an even greater payoff.

Physical activity helps control weight and can reduce the chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on the heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Exercise also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.

Dr. Charles suggests getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits.

Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog all count toward the exercise total. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to achieve benefits, but bigger benefits result by increasing the intensity, duration, and frequency of workouts.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can help protect the heart. Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, and salt. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, which can help protect the heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein, and certain types of fish also can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Limiting certain fats also is important. Of the types of fat—saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fat—saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels.

Major sources of saturated fat include:

* Red meat

* Dairy products

* Coconut and palm oils

Sources of trans fat include:

* Deep-fried fast foods

* Bakery products

* Packaged snack foods

* Margarines

* Crackers

Avoid foods with the term “partially hydrogenated,” on the food label, indicating the product contains trans fat.

Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet—with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

One indicator of healthy weight is the body mass index (BMI), which considers height and weight in determining a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The BMI is a good, but imperfect, guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat is present:

* Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm)

* Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm)

Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing body weight by just 10 percent can decrease blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol level, and reduce the risk of diabetes.

5. Get regular health screenings

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage the heart and blood vessels. Without testing for them, it is difficult to detect these conditions. Regular screening can determine what the numbers are and whether a person needs to take action.

* Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.

* Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years, starting at age 20.

* Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, screening for diabetes is wise. Depending on risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, a doctor may recommend first testing for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years.

For additional information about heart disease prevention, visit the Mayo Clinic at mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502.