The leading cause of death for all Americans is heart disease. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that heart disease takes over 635,000 lives every year, accounting for around a quarter of all deaths. The stats are truly sobering. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent heart disease. They’re the same lifestyle changes doctors recommend after receiving a heart disease diagnosis.
What Is Heart Disease?
The term heart disease is a catch-all term that refers to just about any heart condition. Also known as cardiovascular disease, it includes arrhythmia (problems with heart rhythm), angina (chest pain), coronary artery disease and other blood vessel issues, and congenital heart defects.
Love Your Heart with Real Food
If your doctor told you that you have cardiovascular disease, he or she likely already shared what a heart-healthy diet looks like. But this is an area that confuses a lot of people, so let’s do a quick recap.
A heart-healthy diet is made up of real food, one where every ingredient is a recognizable word. It should be plant-based, including five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. You can add moderate amounts of lean protein, dairy, and healthy fats. This graphic from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstrates recommended serving sizes of each food group:
Limit sugars, salts, trans fats, and saturated fats. And avoid processed foods as much as you can. They offer very little nutritional value. As much as possible, you want real food that you prepare yourself.
Our article, Cooking for Your Heart, includes lots of tips about how to plan a menu and create your weekly shopping list. It’s also realistic and gives advice for how to eat for your heart when you’re not at home.
Quit Smoking to Save Your Heart
You already know that smoking is bad for your lungs, but did you know that it’s also bad for your heart?
Smoking presents two dangers to your heart. First, inhaling all that carbon monoxide reduces oxygen levels in your blood. Second, nicotine constricts your arteries, which forces your heart to work harder to pump blood through them. So, your heart has an increased need for oxygen coupled with a decreased ability to get it.
It’s never too late to quit smoking. And once you do, your heart health starts improving almost immediately – literally within days! As your body expels stored nicotine and carbon monoxide, your blood pressure gets lower, blood flow increases, and breathing improves.
Medicare Part B covers smoking cessation programs. Once you’re ready to quit, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get started. Many employers also offer incentives to quit smoking. So do health insurance companies. If you have a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan or secondary insurance, check to see whether your plan incentivizes beneficiaries to quit smoking.
Improve Heart Strength with Exercise
One of the most important things you can do for your heart is stay active. It not only improves heart health, it lowers your risk for a wide range of chronic conditions.
Before beginning any exercise program, talk to your doctor. He or she knows the level of activity your body can currently handle.
Once your doctor approves, the standard recommended level of exercise is 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. “Moderate” is defined as an activity the elevates heart rate and breathing but allows you to maintain a conversation. However, you may sound a bit “breathy” while talking.
You can get your 150 minutes in whatever way works for your fitness levels and time constraints. Five days per week, 30 minutes per day is the goal. However, if you need to break that 30 minutes into smaller sessions, you may. One goal, though, should be improving fitness levels to where you can do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in a single session.
Moderate aerobic activities include walking, light jogging, hiking, dancing, swimming, and biking. Or, you may choose a more formal type of exercise, such as yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. It may also include common household chores, such as gardening, sweeping, and vacuuming. Our article, 7 Summer Workouts for Seniors, has great ideas and options for increasing your physical activity.
Talk to Your Doctor
Whether you received a heart disease diagnosis or simply a warning that you’re in danger, your doctor is your best source of information and guidance. He or she knows your current fitness levels and unique circumstances. They’re also equipped with up-to-date information on the best and healthiest options, so follow your doctor’s advice and take any medications he or she prescribes.
If you have any questions about your Medicare coverage, our licensed agents are here to help. Just call us toll-free at 855-350-8101.