The 5 Best Ways to Slash Your Heart Failure Risk, According to Doctors
Doing these five simple things could help avert a heart health crisis.
Right now, roughly 6.2 million Americans are living with heart failure, a condition which occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in the body. Though some patients can live with heart failure for a long time, the Mayo Clinic notes that it's known to put patients at risk of serious complications, such as heart arrhythmia, heart valve problems, liver damage, and kidney failure.
However, there are several ways to take your heart health into your own hands to prevent this condition, says Robert Greenfield, MD, a double board certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute in Fountain Valley, California. "Lifestyle changes are key, and may be the best 'medicine' if you're looking to prevent cardiovascular problems," he tells Best Life. "Many people are motivated to change their lifestyle if they have inherited a family history laden with heart disease," he adds. However, "everyone can improve their lifestyle," and the earlier you do so, the better. Read on to learn the five best ways to lower your risk of heart failure, according to Greenfield.
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Make a healthy meal plan.
One of the best ways to prevent heart failure and improve your heart health more generally is through a healthy diet, Greenfield says. "Out of the dozens of diet plans, the best still seems to be the Mediterranean diet," he advises. "This would include a consumption of olive oil, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, and low consumption of red meat and saturated fat. But no matter how good your diet is purported to be, eating calories to excess associated with weight gain and obesity nullifies the benefit," the cardiologist warns.
The CDC adds that additionally, reducing sodium and trans fats in your diet can help to reduce your risk of heart failure.
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Get some exercise.
Exercising—even moderately—can also have a huge impact on heart health, Greenfield says. "Our bodies are made to move and not sit all day. It is said that sitting all day and living a sedentary life is the 'new smoking,'" he notes.
But the benefits of exercise don't stop there, the heart specialist adds. "Exercise makes you feel good, reduces stress, raises your good cholesterol (HDL), and helps control weight," he says.
Greenfield says it's not necessary to join a gym—"any exercise is good"—as long as you stick to a routine. However, he adds that ideally, "there should be a combination of aerobic exercise as well as resistance exercises with light weights. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week which can be 30 minute sessions 5 days a week," he tells Best Life.
Sleep is crucial for your heart health, since it restores and repairs the body. Greenfield recommends practicing good sleep hygiene, which may include having a set sleep schedule, making improvements to your sleep environment, cultivating daily health habits, practicing relaxation techniques, and more.
Greenfield says the ideal sleep duration may differ slightly from person to person, but in general, no one should get fewer than six hours of sleep per night. Many experts say that getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night is ideal.
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Manage your stress.
Greenfield says stress is "the most underrated risk factor" for heart failure and other cardiological problems. "One should try to minimize stress when they can," he says. "Continuous stress releases stress hormones in the body like adrenaline and cortisol, which damage the body when in excess," he adds.
"Finding a rest period during the day, learning how to meditate, and avoiding and eliminating aspects of your life that are non-essential but stressful is a great start," he says. "In short, write the next chapter of your life and make it uplifting and satisfying. Learn about your body and use common sense. Treat your body like a sanctuary, not like an amusement park, and your heart disease risk will be lowered."
Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake.
Quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake can also significantly lower your risk of heart failure, doctors say. In fact, a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers found that people who smoke develop heart failure at twice the rate of those who have never smoked.
Similarly, the CDC points out that those who drink alcohol in excess are at heightened risk of heart failure. Speak with your doctor for more information if you need help quitting smoking or scaling back on your drinking.