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Healthy Living Choices and Your Vascular System

Life Choices and Vascular Health
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Know Your Risk, and Reduce It

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But do you know the same risks, and recommendations that apply to your heart also apply to your vascular health as well? There are things you have no control over, like genetics. However, you can do a lot to protect yourself and stay healthy.

Healthy living involves understanding your risks, making healthy choices, and taking steps to reduce your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. By taking preventive measures, you can lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and you can also improve your overall health and well-being.

Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease

  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high blood cholesterol
  • Have overweight or obesity
  • Have prediabetes or diabetes
  • Smoke
  • Do not get regular physical activity
  • Have a family history of early heart disease, for example if your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, or your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65
  • Have a history of preeclampsia, which is a sudden rise in blood pressure and too much protein in the urine during pregnancy
  • Have unhealthy eating behaviors
  • Are age 55 or older for women or age 45 or older for men

Each risk factor increases your chance of developing heart disease. The more risks you have, the higher your overall risk.

Take Control Where You Can

Effect of Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your artery as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your blood vessels and lead to plaque buildup. Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher.

If your blood pressure is high, your provider will suggest lifestyle changes and may prescribe medicines.

Effect of Cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is a condition in which your blood has unhealthy levels of cholesterol—a waxy, fat- like substance.

Many factors affect your cholesterol levels. For example, age, sex, eating patterns, and physical activity level can affect your cholesterol levels. Your cholesterol numbers will include total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides . Ask your provider what these numbers mean for you.

If you have unhealthy cholesterol levels, your provider may suggest lifestyle changes. If these changes alone are not enough, your provider may prescribe a statin or other medicine to help manage your cholesterol levels.

Effect of Smoking

If you smoke, quit. Smoking can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease and worsen other risk factors. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group or ask your vascular specialist for help.

Learn more about smoking and its effects on your vascular system.

You Are What You Eat

Effect of Diet

Healthy eating involves choosing certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while limiting others, such as saturated fats and added sugars.

These foods are the foundation of a heart-healthy eating plan.

  • Vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots
  • Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes
  • Whole grains such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, or yogurt

Protein-rich foods:

  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, and trout)
  • Lean meats such as 95% lean ground beef or pork tenderloin or skinless chicken or turkey
  • Eggs
  • Nuts, seeds, and soy products (tofu)
  • Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans

Oils and foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:

  • Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils (not coconut or palm oil)
  • Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts
  • Nut and seed butters
  • Salmon and trout
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax)
  • Avocados
  • Tofu

Foods to limit

A healthy eating plan limits sodium (salt), saturated fat, added sugars, and alcohol. Understanding nutrition labels can help you choose healthier foods.

Move It and Lose It

Effect of Weight

A healthy weight for adults is generally a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. An online BMI
calculator will help you measure your BMI.

The more body fat that you have the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems, and certain cancers.

If most of your fat is around your waist, you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or more than 40 inches for men increases your risk.

Benefits of Maintaining a Healthy Weight

A loss of just 3% to 5% of your current weight can lower triglycerides and glucose levels in your blood, as well as your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Losing more than 3% to 5% of your weight can improve blood pressure readings, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.

Benefits of Exercise

Talk with your healthcare provider before you start a new exercise plan. Even modest amounts of physical activity are good for your health.

Aerobic exercise benefits your heart and lungs the most. This is any exercise in which your heart beats faster and you use more oxygen than usual, such as brisk walking, running, biking, and swimming.

The more active you are, the more you benefit. The recommendation is:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or
  • 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or
  • A combination of both moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity.

Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none.