Fill in the blank: an ounce of _____________ is worth a pound of cure.
Not only does prevention spare you the discomfort and stress of being ill but taking steps to get healthier and reduce your disease risk factors makes good financial sense. On average, hospitals charge $85,000 for a heart operation or procedure – definitely a wallop for your wallet.
Moreover, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that annual healthcare costs were $5,000 lower for people with the heart-healthy lifestyles. Even if you don’t have a major heart-related incident, if you contribute to riskier heart disease factors, you could be eating away at both your health and wealth over time.
The good news is there are several ways you can significantly reduce your heart disease risk. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates 80% of heart disease can be prevented, and the American Heart Association recommends focusing on these seven preventative habits, Life’s Simple 7, specifically:
1. Stop smoking.
2. Maintain fasting blood glucose under 100 mg/dL.
3. Keep total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL.
4. Have blood pressure in the normal range, or 120/80 mmHg or lower.
5. Lose weight (a healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 25).
6. Spend at least two-and-a-half hours per week getting moderate exercise.
7. Clean up your diet.
Exercise to improve heart health
Of these habits, exercise is one of the most important, and can be as simple (and effective) as going for a 30-minute walk on your lunch break. Exercise also has a positive impact on the other heart-health factors, such as lowering blood sugar and blood pressure. If you’re not already active, get yourself into the habit by starting small – maybe five or 10 minutes – and increasing your walk time gradually.
Want to really increase the benefit of exercise? Start strength training (also sometimes referred to as resistance training, or simply “lifting weights”) alongside your walking or other cardio regimen. Compared to cardio fitness alone, researchers found combined strength and cardio training is better for losing fat and increasing strength while improving cardiovascular health. As we age, maintaining strength and muscle mass can improve overall longevity and a better quality of life, not to mention helping prevent the risk of injury from everyday tasks or a fall. Many adults also have begun strength training to slow progressive conditions like osteoporosis.
Looking for a sample routine? This strength training for older adults program includes lifts and cardio activities and can be done with machines, barbells, free weights, or even your own body weight. Membership to your local YMCA, for example, costs $50-100 per month depending on your age – far cheaper and more fun than a heart procedure.
When it comes to eating, the recipe might be to skip novelty and stay with the tried-and-true. In comparing variety versus quantity of vegetables eaten, researchers found quantity is more important. Of the men and women studied, those who ate the most vegetables had a 17% lower risk of heart disease. Citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and beta-carotene and vitamin-C rich foods like sweet potatoes were specifically associated with lower risk.
What else should be in your diet? Focus on whole foods with few ingredients, including protein and fats high in omega-3 fatty acids. Watching your sugar and carbohydrate intake as these raise your blood sugar and may lead to insulin resistance and a higher risk of heart disease over time. To get started without a lot of guesswork, check out this list of easy weeknight recipes (with shopping lists) from Michelle Tam to jumpstart your heart-healthy diet.
Developing heart disease is a result of having many heart disease risk factors over time, which is good news for preventing it. According to the American Heart Association, making changes now and building good habits over your lifetime can greatly reduce your risk, giving you a better quality of life and saving you money on expensive medications and procedures. Take a moment today to see how you could proactively reduce your risk of heart disease.
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Things to Consider:
- Assess your risk factors for heart disease using Life’s Simple 7 from AHA.
- Consider establishing a trust to protect your heirs from costly and time-consuming court proceedings over your estate.
- Focus on decreasing one risk factor to start.
- It’s best to ask your doctor which risk factor is the most important to address first.