Excerpted and adapted from the Stroke Connection Magazine January/February 2005 article "When Risk Factors Unite" (Science update May 2008)
Although heart disease and stroke account for the vast majority of deaths each year in America, you can do things to lessen your risk:
Eat a healthy diet.
Healthy food habits can help you reduce three risk factors for heart disease and stroke - high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight. The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle recommendations outlines a healthy diet. It's based on these dietary recommendations, which are easier to follow than you may think.
Start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Don't eat more calories than you know you can burn up every day.
Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
You may be eating plenty of food, but your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products most often.
- Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber-and they're low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
- Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.
- Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout, and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.
Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.
The right number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level and whether you're trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight. You could use your daily allotment of calories on a few high-calorie foods and beverages, but you probably wouldn't get the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. Limit foods and beverages high in calories but low in nutrients, and limit how much saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Read labels carefully-the Nutrition Facts panel will tell you how much of those nutrients each food or beverage contains. As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations.
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
- Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.
Following this eating plan will help you enjoy a healthy, nutritious diet. This may help you gain such benefits as a healthy body weight, a desirable blood cholesterol level and a normal blood pressure. Every meal doesn't have to meet all the guidelines. Apply the guidelines to your overall eating pattern several days a week.
Exercise every day.
Balance the number of calories you eat with those you use up each day to maintain your best weight. Walk or do other physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most or all days. To lose weight, use up more calories than you eat every day. But before you start, check with your doctor.
Know your blood pressure.
High blood pressure may not have any symptoms. The only way you will know if your pressure is high is to have it checked. If it is high, you may be able to reduce it with diet and exercise, but if that doesn’t work, medication will likely be necessary. If you take medication, take it exactly as prescribed, not just when you feel like it.
There are many benefits to giving up tobacco. If you or a loved one need an incentive to quit, check out some of the toxic substances in cigarette smoke.
Learn more about brain health.