What is the best way to treat an illness? By preventing it in the first place.
Today, this simple advice is more accurate than it’s ever been. The medical world can now frequently predict if and how a person is at risk for a specific disease – as well as what steps to take for prevention.
Congestive heart failure is no exception. Now is the perfect time to consider both the risks and preventative steps you can take to lead a healthier life.
First: what is congestive heart failure? It “occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “Certain conditions, such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure, gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.”
On the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the organization notes: “heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.”
How do you know if you’re at risk for heart failure – and what can be done to prevent it?
A number of health conditions can increase risk. “High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease,” according to the CDC. High cholesterol is another risk factor. Extra cholesterol can build up in a person’s arteries, decreasing blood flow to the organs. Additional health conditions that increase risk of heart failure are diabetes, which causes sugar to build up in the blood, and obesity.
Certain unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices can also contribute to heart disease. For instance, too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. (The CDC recommends women and men have no more than one or two drinks per day, respectively.) Not surprisingly, smoking has an effect as well: “Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions such as… heart attack,” the CDC reports. “Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry.”
Other risk factors include gender and age: “Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and men have attacks earlier in life,” cites the American Heart Association. Hereditary plays a role, too: “Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease themselves,” the American Heart Association notes.
Knowing your risk factors is just the first step. Being proactive about modifying your lifestyle can reduce those risks.
Physical activity is one of the best prevention methods – it helps maintain a healthy weight and can also reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure. How much exercise is enough? The American Heart Association recommends “at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of heart-pumping physical activity per week.” And regular physical activity is good for far more than just your heart. “Being more active can help all people think, feel and sleep better and perform daily tasks more easily,” the American Heart Association reports.
Another key prevention method is a healthy diet. The CDC recommends fewer processed foods and more fruits and vegetables. “Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol,” the CDC notes. “Limiting salt in your diet also can lower your blood pressure.”
A third, and perhaps less obvious, prevention method is stress management. Stress can cause heightened blood pressure, which, in turn, contributes to poor heart health. To manage stress, seek out activities that relax you like reading, hiking, or yoga, just to name a few. Practicing more positive thinking is another technique in staying healthy. “Positive self-talk can help you calm down and control stress,” notes the American Heart Association. What is positive self-talk? It means replacing thoughts like “I can’t do this” with “I’ll do the best I can.”
Congestive heart failure is a serious condition, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. By identifying risk factors and taking preventative steps, you can reduce your chances of the disease — and live a healthier life in the process.
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