Cardiovascular disease comprises a group of conditions that affect the arteries and veins taking blood to and from the heart. Heart disease can be life-threatening, so it’s important to understand its causes and ways to prevent it. Some cardiovascular diseases are congenital, something we are born with, but luckily, you can avoid many forms by making healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Need a little guidance? 8fit’s can help—find out what cardiovascular disease is and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.
What is cardiovascular disease?
The heart is a pump that keeps oxygen-rich blood circulating throughout the body. When your heart works properly, this oxygen-rich blood keeps your organs in optimal health. The term cardiovascular disease refers to when blood vessels or the heart gets damaged by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when fatty plaques build up in the arteries, restricting and ultimately preventing blood from flowing freely around the body. Untreated, cardiovascular disease can lead to serious conditions such as heart failure, cardiac arrest or aneurysm. It isn’t all bad news though: a switch to a healthy lifestyle can help keep your heart in top condition.
Causes of cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease can be complex and have a variety of causes, but there are certain risk factors to be aware of. These include:
Aging: The heart muscle thickens, and arteries become narrower and damaged as we age.
Gender: Across all ages, men are at greater risk, but the risk for women increases dramatically after menopause.
Family history: If heart disease runs in your family, it can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease too.
Smoking: Nicotine constricts blood vessels while carbon monoxide damages their inner lining, making heart attacks far more common in smokers than non-smokers.
Poor diet: Too much fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol in the diet raises the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure: Uncontrolled blood pressure causes a narrowing of the arteries.
Other factors include diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and stress. While you may not have control over all of these factors, some are easily manageable.
Signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease
There are several types of cardiovascular disease and they come with their own different types of symptoms. In any case, here are some general signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for:
Shortness of breath
Chest pain, discomfort or tightness
Pain, weakness or numbness in your arms and legs
Pain in your neck, throat, jaw, back or upper abdomen
Noticeable changes in heart rhythm
Feeling dizzy or faint
Swollen feet and ankles
Persistent dry cough
The importance of cardiovascular disease prevention
Every year around the globe, cardiovascular disease takes more than 17 million lives, especially among smokers and people who have a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle. However, by changing lifestyle and diet, the risks of developing cardiovascular disease can be significantly reduced.
A balanced diet for your heart
Eating wholesome, nutritious food can prevent heart attacks. A healthy diet should include foods that are rich in nutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber, and healthy fats. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (aim for five portions a day), starchy whole grains (bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta), a little dairy, along with some protein (meat, fish, eggs, and beans if you're vegetarian). Stay away from excessive salt and alcohol. We don't believe in strict diets meaning that it's ok to indulge in the occasional sweet treat (hello, chocolate!), guilt-free.
Our heart-friendly superfoods selection
Salmon and other fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, etc.) are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that these fatty acids reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and decrease the levels of bad fats in your body. Aim to eat fish at least twice a week. You can also add Omega-3 supplements to your diet.
Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels. It soaks up the cholesterol, eliminating it from the body so that it's not absorbed into the bloodstream and carried around the body. Avoid instant porridge which often has sugar added but try making your own using quick-cooking oats. You can also use oatmeal to make delicious and healthy cookies.
Berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, have been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack when added to your diet three or more times a week. They contain antioxidants that help lower blood pressure while dilating blood vessels...and they're delicious. Just go easy on the cream!
Citrus fruits contain plenty of antioxidants. They are also full of Vitamin C, which is linked to heart disease prevention. We prefer fresh fruit over fruit juice any day, particularly because of its fiber content. Note: if you are taking statins to lower cholesterol, avoid grapefruit products as these interfere with the drug's effectiveness.
Tomatoes are superfruits, rich in potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant that gets rid of bad cholesterol while dilating your blood vessels. As well as being tasty, they're also low in sugar and calories. Go for it.
Soy products such as soy milk and tofu are a good way to add dietary protein without the unhealthy fats and cholesterol found in some animal products. As well as polyunsaturated fats, soy products are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A winning combo!
Nuts including almonds, pistachios, peanuts, macadamias, and walnuts are all packed full of fiber and Vitamin E, which is known to help reduce bad cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, are also high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Tip: avoid salted varieties and eat the real deal.
Legumes, including peas, beans, and lentils all deliver protein without unhealthy fat. Try to eat legumes at least four times a week to reduce your risk of heart disease. They are also an excellent way of controlling blood sugar levels.
Extra-virgin olive oil is a typical part of the Mediterranean diet, and it only takes four tablespoons a day to reduce the risk of heart attacks. Use it to make healthy and tasty salad dressings. If you're on a weight-loss regimen, be careful because the calories from the oil can add up quickly.
Broccoli, spinach, and kale are just some of the carotenoid-rich dark green vegetables that boost your heart health. They're rich in fiber and packed full of vitamins and minerals. Some, such as kale, also contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
Avocados have a well-deserved reputation for protecting the heart. They are rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and potassium, all great for heart health.
Pomegranates are also full of antioxidants that prevent your arteries from hardening. If you don't like or can't afford pomegranates, apples have similar properties.
The best way to include all these superfoods into your diet is to prepare a weekly menu planner. By putting together a meal plan ahead of time, you can make sure that your meals are balanced, varied, and include all of the healthy food groups. Or better yet, let 8fit do it for you—we create meal plans customized to your needs.
An active lifestyle for a healthy heart
Alongside a healthy diet, exercise, and physical activity play a significant role in the prevention of heart disease. Although it is easy to think we are leading action-packed busy lives, the modern workplace usually involves many hours of sitting in front of a computer screen.
Getting enough exercise not only has a dramatic effect on your heart health but can also prevent many other conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, as well as improving your mood and stress levels. You don't have to go out and run a marathon tomorrow though. Just gradually make some simple changes to your daily routine. Plan to power walk for at least 30 minutes a day, and you'll soon feel and see the benefits. Short on time? You don't have to do 30 minutes all at once—several ten-minute walks are just as effective.
There are numerous ways you can incorporate exercise into your cardiovascular prevention plan. Get together with a group of friends and simply go for a walk together. Check out local gyms and exercise classes to see if anything appeals to you or create your own cardio exercise routines at home. Run up and down escalators at work or on public transport, choose stairs over elevators whenever possible, and if you travel by subway or bus to work, get on or off a few stops away from the office and clock up those steps. Use the step tracker on 8fit or your smart watch—seeing the steps and miles add up is a powerful motivator.
Being aware of what cardiovascular disease is, knowing the signs and symptoms and taking steps to prevent it are all essential aspects that will pave the way to a healthier life. But do cut yourself some slack every so often. If you're eating healthy most of the time, the odd candy bar or side of chips won't overthrow your efforts. To stay on track of your health goals, head over to the 8fit app for constant meal and fitness inspiration.