What do lack of exercise, smoking, and a poor diet have in common? All three are not only hard habits to break, but they are considered to be risk factors for heart disease. Inactivity or lack of exercise makes people twice as likely to have heart disease as active people. It is also associated with obesity, increased blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes and high cholesterol. Experts have warned that failure to exercise can be as bad for health as smoking a packet of cigarettes every day. An estimated 65 percent to 85 percent of the world’s population fail to take enough exercise.
Smoking poses a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders, such as fatty build-ups in arteries (atherosclerosis), several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Atherosclerosis is a major contributor to the high rates of deaths from smoking. Several studies have shown that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. Hardened smokers need the support of their families, friends, colleagues and even doctors to wean themselves off nicotine-addiction.
Changing over to a healthy diet can be a major feat to some people. They have this notion of resigning to a life of vegetables and abstinence from chips and chocolates. While nutritionists agree that it may be hard to overcome the habits of a lifetime, drastic changes may not be necessary. For instance, one can start by switching from full fat to semi-skimmed milk without affecting taste preference but have major health benefits. There is also no need to abstain from your favorite desserts as long as it does not become a staple part of your diet.
According to The British Nutrition Foundation (BHF), there are five main areas of diet which can prevent coronary heart disease: cholesterol, blood pressure, healthy weight, blood clots and fiber. Cholesterol is a form of fat transported in the blood which is essential in small amounts. Since cholesterol can be both good and bad, it’s important to know the difference, how it affects health, and how to manage cholesterol levels.
Some forms of cholesterol are derived from saturated fats, such as butter, margarine, yogurt, meat, milk, cheese, cakes, pies, and can clog up the arteries in large amounts. Since the blood supply to the heart is being cut off, heart attack occurs. However, antioxidants found in vitamins C, E and some forms of vitamin A can counteract this build-up of damaging levels of cholesterol. Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins A and C and unsaturated fats and oils are good sources of vitamin E. To keep hearts healthy, The BHF recommends that people eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
While genetic conditions may cause high blood pressure, diet is also thought to play a crucial role in coronary heart disease. Alcohol, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and too much salt are likely to cause high blood pressure. The single largest source of dietary salt is bread while processed food, such as prepared meals, are also high in salt. The BHF advises against adding any extra salt to food since most already contains fairly high quantities. Research have shown that foods which are high in minerals like potassium, such as bananas and potatoes, may also play a role in lowering blood pressure.
Obesity increases the risk of heart disease. Physical activity can reduce the risk of high blood pressure caused by constricted arteries. The way the fat is deposited around the body can also affect the risk. People with pear-shaped figures are those with most of their fat deposited around the hips, while apple-shaped figures have most of their fat deposited around the stomach. Women are more likely to be pear-shaped and run less of a risk of suffering a heart attack than men who tend to be apple-shaped.
Blood clots causes a heart attack when it blocks or stem the blood flow. Food that contain chemicals, such as omega fatty acids found in naturally oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon, help prevent blood clotting and protect against heart disease.
Fiber-rich foods, such as oats, pasta, potatoes and bread, are known to reduce blood cholesterol levels and may therefore reduce the risk of heart disease.