An April 2009 study published by Harvard researchers identified the top causes of preventable death in the U.S. While you may expect to see things like automobile crashes and firearms on this list, in fact, the things that cause the most preventable deaths in America are almost exclusively lifestyle factors, including (ranked in order of the most deaths per year):
- High blood pressure
- Inadequate physical activity
- High blood sugar
Smoking leads the way with over 460,000 deaths reported in the 2009 study, followed by death related to being overweight or obese (more than 200,000 deaths each year). By comparison, there were about 35,000 automobile-related deaths in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and even fewer deaths resulting from firearms.
If you’re concerned about your health and want to find ways to avoid these preventable diseases, here are five tips that can lower your risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke.
You don’t have to exercise like an Olympic athlete to benefit from daily aerobic activity. Even a little bit of exercise has many benefits for your health and getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can lower your risk of heart attack or stroke significantly—as much as 30-50%. If you can throw in some strength training along with aerobic exercise, that’s even better. Building stronger muscles boost your metabolism so your body is more efficient at burning calories throughout the day, even when you’re not exercising.
(2) Eat Healthy and Limit Alcohol Intake
Increase your daily dose of fruits and vegetables, consume lean meats and low-fat dairy, and get fats from heart-healthy sources such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil. At the same time, cut down on salty, sugary foods to limit plaque buildup in arteries, since plaque can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
As a side benefit, a healthy diet can even help you lose weight (especially combined with exercise from #1 above), and eating plenty of foods that contain vitamins and minerals can boost your immune system so you don’t get sick as often. Finally, limit your alcohol intake to just 1-2 servings per day, or less. Alcohol can increase blood pressure, which is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.
(3) Follow Your Doctor’s Orders
If you’re at risk of heart attack or stroke, it’s important that you follow your doctor’s orders on taking medications, exercising, and eating a healthier diet. Studies have shown that many people die each year simply because they were not taking the heart medications prescribed by their physician. Find out what is preventing you from taking medications—forgetfulness, prohibitive costs, or side effects—and talk to the doctor about ways to get around these things.
(4) Avoid Smoking
You have heard millions of times that you need to quit smoking, and every time you hear it, it’s true. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and if a disease like lung cancer doesn’t kill you, smoking will also wreak havoc on your heart. It narrows blood vessels in your body, reducing circulation, and weakening the main artery in your body, the aorta, which can lead to an aneurysm. Even if you are not a smoker, breathing secondhand smoke can have the same detrimental effects on your body.
(5) Visit Your Dentist
You may have never considered the role your dentist could play in your heart health, but research has shown a significant link between oral health habits and overall health, especially related to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and other obesity-related conditions. When you have chronic inflammation in your gums, which leads to periodontal disease and gingivitis, it can affect your body’s ability to fight off infection in other areas, and the chronic inflammation in your mouth can also lead to inflammation and damage in other areas of your body.
In addition, your dentist can see some of the early signs of heart disease that your doctor may not notice, such as swollen gums, loose teeth, and other early signs. Scheduling regular check-ups with a dentist every 6 months can help you catch early signs and maintain a healthier mouth.
Following these easy steps can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, and suffering from a heart attack or stroke. Often a few lifestyle changes can have a significant effect on your overall health.