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Preventing Heart Disease

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 9/18/2010

Learn what can cause heart disease and know what risk factors are mostly responsible for this serious medical condition. Find valuable information on preventing heart disease in this article.

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    Heart Disease

    Preventing Heart Disease (image in the public domain) The cardiovascular system is needed to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body and to remove waste products from cells. A human heart, in an average lifetime, will beat about 2.5 billion times and will pump roughly 100,000 million gallons of blood! Unfortunately, many people do not reach these numbers. In the United States, heart disease is the number one killer.

    Atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, is often the cause of heart disease. Heart disease is a "silent killer" because the first symptom in most cases are fatal. Normally, the person does not experience any symptoms as the arteries build up with plaque made up of fatty material, cholesterol, and cellular debris. However, once the plaque buildup blocks the flow of blood to the heart, a heart attack will occur.

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    Preventing Heart Disease

    Atherosclerosis is largely a disease of lifestyle and diet.

    Smoking

    Tobacco smoke has more than 4,000 chemicals (more than 50 of those have been identified as carcinogens) which are extremely damaging to the blood vessels. Smoking also contributes to high blood pressure, promotes platelet aggregation (stickiness of blood platelets), elevates fibrinogen (protein involved in the clotting system) levels, and is believed to raise cholesterol levels.

    Occasional smoking, passive smoking, and other tobacco products are also risk factors for heart disease. Women who smoke, on birth control pills, and over the age of 35 are at a greater risk.

    Quitting smoking can greatly reduce ones risk of heart disease.

    Physical Activity

    Regular exercise is very important in preventing heart disease. Exercise lowers cholesterol levels, improves blood and oxygen supply to the heart, increases the heart's functional capacity, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress, and helps maintain a healthy weight.

    Thirty minutes of exercise (such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling) a day at least five days a week should be sufficient.

    Diet

    Limit saturated fat and cholesterol. Decrease or eliminate animal products in your diet, except for cold-water fish (such as salmon, herring, or tuna) which is high in omega 3. Omega 3 is a healthy fat and can actually help reduce ones risk of heart disease.

    Avoid trans fatty acids, including hydrogenated oils.

    Avoid processed foods and eat more whole grains, legumes, raw nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Other

    Maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol (two drinks a day if male and one drink a day if female), and reducing stress are other important factors in preventing heart disease.

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.