Your heart is your powerhouse, constantly pumping blood around your body to keep you alive. For a muscular organ the size of your fist, that’s some serious responsibility. But are you doing enough to keep your heart health in top shape?
While it often feels like something that happens to other people, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. In fact, roughly 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by heart disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it can strike those who least expect it.
“Unlike diseases that lead to the manifestation of physical symptoms, not everyone with heart disease will experience symptoms until an event—like a heart attack—occurs,” says Orangetheory research scientist Brittany Leboeuf, PhD. It's important to note that heart disease symptoms can differ between men and women, further complicating the diagnosis process until a heart attack occurs. “What’s more, many people who are at-risk for or diagnosed with heart disease feel overwhelmed by the information that is out there. While it is great that so much information is accessible, it can be difficult to determine what is the ‘correct’ course of action.”
The good news is you have a lot of power to improve and protect your heart health. Keep reading for small-yet-mindful actions you can take to lower your risk of heart disease.
And remember: While a sudden cardiac event may motivate someone to make lifestyle changes rather quickly, Leboeuf stresses that these changes don’t need to all be implemented overnight in order to make a difference. “Don’t neglect small steps. Anything is going to be better than nothing.”
1. Move More
Anytime you’re moving your body, you’re protecting your heart and making it healthier. Physical activity strengthens your heart and lowers your blood pressure; it also lowers your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other health problems. The key to reducing your risk: “Even if you are active in other ways, you want to be sure you are incorporating exercise that elevates your heart rate,” says Leboeuf. That’s where fitness classes such as Orangetheory can play a role. Just two Orange 60 classes plus two Strength 50 sessions each week can help you meet the American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity and have a healthy heart.
2. Eat Smart
“Following certain dieting principles can help a person reverse some of the effects of heart disease or prevent complications and progression of the condition,” says Leboeuf. “Nutrition can also help with weight management and the reduction of inflammation, which can lead to improvements in heart health.” To keep it simple, try focusing on these four factors: Salt, sugar, fat, and fiber. Look to include foods in your diet that are low in sodium and added sugars, while boosting your amount of heart-healthy fats (such as olive oil and salmon) and high-fiber foods (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables).
3. Know Your History
Exercise every day, eat super healthy, avoid alcohol, and don’t touch cigarettes? That’s great—but you still could be at risk. “There are several factors that influence your risk of heart disease, and only a handful of them are modifiable,” explains Leboeuf. “That is not to say lifestyle cannot make a difference but certain risk factors, such as a history of heart disease in your family, will put you at higher risk.” Finding out what sort of heart problems and related health conditions (such as diabetes or high blood pressure) run in your immediate family can help you get a better sense of your specific risk.
4. Talk to Your Doc
“Some of the diseases that are risk factors for heart disease can often go undiagnosed, such as high blood pressure or prediabetes,” says Leboeuf. Meanwhile, other risk factors such as stress, sleep, nutrition, and alcohol intake frequently go unchecked. “It is important to attend your regular check-ups with your physician and participate in routine blood work.”
5. Stress Less
We know, we know—easier said than done, right? You can’t always control the stressful things that happen to you, but finding ways to manage your daily stress can help prevent serious health problems like heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure. For some, that might mean spending less time online or more time with loved ones; others may find stress relief through deep breathing exercises or meditation.
6. Spread the Love
For the fifth year, Orangetheory is partnering with the American Heart Association (AHA) to inspire and encourage people to live longer, healthier lives. Make sure to check with your local studio for all the specifics on how to participate in the Orangetheory x AHA donation classes happening February 17-19, where 100% of the funds raised will go to the AHA and be dedicated towards important work like funding research to develop new medicines to prevent and treat heart disease, advance CPR training, and providing more AED defibrillators in public locations.