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Heart Disease Prevention: A Guide for Caregivers

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Heart disease is the number one cause of death for people in the United States, of most racial and ethnic backgrounds. Taking steps now towards heart disease prevention for your loved one is important.

The condition known as heart disease includes a number of different problems. These conditions are often related to atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis occurs due to plaque build-up in the artery walls, narrowing the arteries and making it more difficult for blood to flow. Arteries are the blood vessels carrying nutrients and oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body. Without taking steps to treat or prevent atherosclerosis, these blockages can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Whether your loved one has been told by a healthcare provider that they are at risk of heart disease, or you are concerned about their heart health and want to help them reduce the risk of heart disease, this article will outline the steps you can take as a caregiver to help prevent heart disease.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Heart disease is very common in the United States, making it the leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic groups. The good news is that most of the risk factors are preventable, by making healthy lifestyle changes.

The risk factors for heart disease that you can help your loved one reverse or avoid are:

  • High cholesterol, especially high triglycerides

  • High blood pressure

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Tobacco use

  • High BMI and extra-large waist size

If your loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, he or she may be at greater risk for heart disease. The risk of heart attack and stroke are related to high blood glucose levels.

According to the American Heart Association patients with both high blood pressure and diabetes are at double the risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s important, therefore, to help your loved one control their blood sugar levels and follow their doctor’s advice for diabetes management to reduce their heart disease risk factors.

Other risk factors that can’t be controlled include family history and age.

5 Lifestyle Changes For The Prevention Of Heart Disease

The following lifestyle changes are the steps to help reduce your loved one’s heart disease risk factors and prevent heart disease. It’s important to follow the advice of your loved one’s healthcare provider as well.

1. Ensure Your Loved One Quits Smoking (or Never Start)

Never starting cigarette smoking is ideal, but quitting smoking is still an essential step in overall health promotion. Encourage your loved one to begin a smoking cessation program to prevent heart disease.

Today in the U.S., smokers make up less of the population than ex-smokers, a very promising statistic.

Secondhand smoke can also contribute to heart disease by as much as 25-30%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are a smoker, you can better care for your loved one, and reduce your own increased risk of heart disease, by quitting smoking.

On the CDC website, you can find tips for quitting, as well as more research and studies on the dangers of smoking and the many benefits of quitting, to share with your loved one.

2. Ensure Your Loved One Reaches and Maintains A Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese puts your loved one at greater risk of heart disease.

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes and a number of different types of cancer.

One Harvard study found that weight gain after the age of 20 contributes to heart disease risk factors. In addition to heart disease, those who gained more than 11 pounds were at higher risk of developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Having a high body-mass index (BMI) puts one at greater risk for coronary heart disease. There are many free online BMI calculators to help determine your loved one’s BMI, including this Adult BMI Calculator by the CDC.

While weight and BMI are important numbers to track, the National Institutes of Health determined that men with a waist size below 40 inches, and women below 35 inches, are at lower risk for heart disease and other serious health problems. Help your loved one work towards a smaller waist for heart disease prevention.

3. Encourage More Movement More Often

Adding more physical activity is a great way for your loved one to prevent heart disease. It can reduce risk factors for many other serious conditions as well. Making time for exercise together can be an effective and heart-healthy lifestyle change.

Prioritizing regular physical activity can lower their risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and cancer. Other benefits of regular exercise include better sleep, lowered stress, and improved moods.

Something as simple as a daily walk with your loved one, can help them maintain a healthy weight, and avoid obesity, which is a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease.

If he or she has been sedentary for some time, they can start with short 10-minute walks each day, gradually increasing to 30-minute walks at a brisker pace, at least every other day.

Swimming, and cardio exercise classes in water, are also great ways to begin adding physical activity into their life.

Research shows that the more time one spends each day sitting at a desk, on the couch, or driving, the higher their chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. So encourage your loved one to get up and out for a walk as much as possible.

4. Shift Your Loved One Towards A Heart-Healthy Diet

Choosing healthy foods as part of a healthy diet is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can implement for (or with) your loved one, for heart disease prevention.

We have long been told that cholesterol and fat are the enemies of the heart-healthy diet. Over time, research has been able to make more meaningful recommendations focused more on whole foods, rather than individual nutrients.

For example, we now know that a low-fat diet isn’t enough to prevent heart disease, and incorporating healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil can be heart-healthy.

The best choices for a heart-healthy diet to prevent heart disease for your loved one will include:

    • daily servings of fruits and vegetables

    • whole grains

    • nuts and legumes

    • fish and poultry

    • unsaturated fats

You’ll want to help them to limit alcohol, red meat, dairy, refined carbohydrates, added sugar and salt, and any food with trans fats. Start checking labels at the grocery store, and choose foods with low sugar, sodium, and zero trans fats to support healthy eating.

Shop the outermost aisle of the grocery store, where the lean meats and produce are found, and go easy on the processed foods found in the boxes and cans in the middle aisles.

Studies have found that following the style of the Mediterranean diet can result in weight loss and improved heart health. The Mediterranean diet may be defined as one involving healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and poultry and fish in small amounts. In general, the Mediterranean diet keeps processed meats, sweets, red meat, and dairy to a minimum.

Avoiding processed foods is an easy way to reduce sodium intake for your loved one. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and is correlated with high sodium intake.

5. Follow The Advice Of A Trusted Health Care Provider

Support your loved one to see their healthcare provider for regular check-ups. Have routine bloodwork done to monitor cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.

Help your loved one follow any heart disease prevention program recommended by their healthcare provider. Such a protocol may include taking steps towards weight loss, beginning an exercise program, and taking prescribed medications.

Supporting Good Choices for Heart Disease Prevention

Taking these steps toward healthy living can be life-changing for your loved one. It is possible to prevent heart disease by following these heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

Support your loved one to avoid tobacco use, maintain a healthy weight, make physical activity a priority and adopt healthy diet choices today, to prevent heart disease tomorrow.

Robert C. Fisher

A Nurse Director at a large medical center in Boston, MA, who holds a Master’s in Nursing Leadership and Administration and an MBA in Healthcare Management.

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