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LIVING WELL: Reduce your risk of heart disease

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Although fewer people are dying each year from heart disease, more people are living with it.

That is, more people have chronic illness affecting the health of their heart and circulatory system. These conditions include elevated blood pressure, as well as high cholesterol and a few other problems.

Most people already know many of the factors that contribute to these problems. In spite of awareness, many people still continue to engage in habits that gradually increase their risk of cardiac problems.

The big three behavioral changes that can make a profound improvement in the average person’s coronary health are smoking cessation, losing weight and increasing exercise.

There are a few other steps that can make a positive difference in the long-term health of your heart.

One of the first steps might include an aggressive attack on blood pressure. By reducing sodium intake, restricting alcohol to a healthy amount and restricting calories, many people can see a significant improvement in blood pressure readings.

The sodium is a tough change because most of the sodium consumed on a daily basis is already in food and drink products.

The best way to get serious about sodium intake is to start reading labels and learning about sodium levels in foods that you routinely consume.

Making a daily record of the total amount of sodium taken in might be helpful.

On average, Americans consume around 3,500 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s far more than double the amount that would lead to a healthier heart. Experts strongly urge us to reduce sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.

To begin changing, learn to recognize the worst offenders in the foods that you eat and exchange those foods for something less hazardous.

For most people, trying to limit their sodium intake can lead to frustration quickly.

There are so many foods that are laden with sodium in hidden forms that it can be very difficult to find foods that aren’t.

In general terms, almost all foods that are ready-to-eat, pre-packaged, pre-seasoned, or preserved will contain more sodium than is healthy.

That leaves fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, fish and poultry, and grains or other items that may have low sodium.

To get an accurate count of the sodium you eat each day it may be necessary to carry a pen and paper or a device such as a program that works with your smart phone. Read the actual labels.

Many products are calling themselves “low sodium” on the front label when the nutrition label reveals that they still contain a large amount of sodium.

Some experts recommend modest alcohol consumption can be helpful for the heart and circulatory system.

This appears to be fairly well accepted as long as the amount of alcohol does not exceed two drinks per day for men or one for women.

Some researchers also recommend that you talk to your doctor about possibly taking a low-dose aspirin daily or every other day.

Individual health status varies with regard to this possible step, so each person should make this decision with the advice of their physician.

High cholesterol can also negatively affect heart health.

Cholesterol is contained in many foods such as meats, dairy and eggs. For many years it was conventional wisdom to assume that eating less cholesterol in food would automatically lead to a lower level of blood cholesterol.

In reality, your body makes cholesterol whether you eat it or not. Cholesterol is a critically important component of many chemical products manufactured in your body.

Low carbohydrate diets have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol over time. This surprised many detractors of low carb eating plans that expected cholesterol levels to skyrocket since the dieters were eating more foods containing cholesterol.

The chemistry and physiology involved is far too complicated for this column, but it is sufficient to say that altering your diet can result in reducing bad cholesterol as well as increasing good cholesterol.

Reducing overall calorie intake helps and low carb eating can also be a successful way to accomplish this.
Tagged under  Exercise, Food, Health, Health Care, Heart Disease, Living Well, Nutrition

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