“Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, but in many cases it is preventable through lifestyle modification,” said Lloyd-Jones, who is also an associate professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Many of the most common New Year’s resolutions, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, are essential to fighting heart disease. Not only are these changes good for your heart, but they benefit your overall health.”
Lloyd-Jones recommends the following New Year’s Resolutions to make 2011 a year aimed at promoting cardiovascular health:
Quit smoking: Quitting smoking is crucial to improving overall health and preventing premature death. Smokers are prone to a number of chronic health conditions, including atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Atherosclerosis contributes to coronary heart disease and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The benefits of quitting are immediate, with blood pressure dropping within 20 minutes and the risk of heart attack decreasing in the first 24 hours.
Eat smarter: A well-balanced, nutritious diet promotes overall health. Not only is it important to avoid foods that are high in sodium and trans fats, but it is crucial to make food choices that are rich in nutrients. Choose foods which are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but are also low calorie. A well-balanced diet should be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and lean meats and poultry.
Get physical: Exercising 30 minutes per day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise provides more energy and is shown to lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol (HDL), control weight, regulate blood sugar, and help manage stress. Small changes can help incorporate more physical activity into everyday. In the office, consider walking to see a coworker rather than sending an email or calling. At the grocery store, choose a parking spot that is further from the door. When possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator. When using public transit, consider getting off a stop early and walking an extra block.
Drop the pounds: Obesity is a major contributor to heart disease. As Americans continue to gain weight, the number of people with cardiovascular disease will increase. Those who carry extra weight, especially in the waist, are at increased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Combining a healthy, calorie-controlled diet with a structured exercise plan can help lose pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
Know your numbers: There are three numbers that everyone should know: blood pressure, total cholesterol (LDL and HDL) and blood sugar. Each of these numbers contributes to a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure and LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Blood sugar is an indicator of diabetes, which the American Heart Associate considers one of six major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Start by scheduling a screening, and then make a plan for diet and exercise to keep these numbers within the healthy range.
Taking a proactive approach and making lifestyle modifications are both key in preventing cardiovascular disease and it’s the focus of “Hearts a Bluhm” an awareness campaign spearheaded by Northwestern’s Bluhm Institute. In partnership with Columbia College Chicago, one of the primary artistic contributors to the campaign, during the month of February, over-sized hearts embellished by various artists will adorn North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. The decorated hearts will “bloom” from planters that align the sidewalks.
“Instead of waiting to see the doctor until you have symptoms, go annually and build a relationship,” said Lloyd-Jones. “If you have yearly check-ups, both you and your doctor will be more aware of your overall health. Preventive care can help avoid heart disease or catch it in its early stages.”
To learn more about how you can support Hearts a Bluhm visit us online at www.heartsabluhm.org. For more information about Northwestern’s cardiovascular programs and services visit the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute website.