About 90% of those at high risk of heart attack, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can be explained by smoking, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, raised blood lipid levels, diabetes, psychosocial factors, or alcohol.
As the inside of the arteries become clogged up by fatty deposits, they can no longer supply enough blood to the body. This process is the main cause of heart attacks, strokes, PAD and sudden death where arteries become completely blocked. The most important way to prevent these conditions is to adopt a healthy lifestyle throughout life and addressing certain risk factors.
In healthy people, a stepwise approach will incorporate preventative behaviours and treatments: smoking cessation, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and maintaining a systolic blood pressure below 160 mmHg. The recommendations are then tailored according to the 10-year risk of Cardiovascular disease (CVD – calculated by a health professional using available risk scores).
The CVD risk in smokers under 50 years of age is five times higher in comparison to non-smokers. Quitting must be encouraged in all smokers, and passive smoking should be avoided where possible. Though many might experience weight gain after stopping, the long term benefits outweigh the negative impact of not stopping. While evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be more effective than nicotine-replacement therapy for smoking cessation, the long-term effects on cardiovascular and lung health are unclear and dual use with tobacco cigarettes should be avoided.
Physiologically, the benefits of cardio exercise affect overall health by improving heart health, mental health, and regulation of weight and metabolism. Regularly doing this improves the efficiency of the heart and the oxygen delivery to cells in order to grow and regenerate. The European Society of Cardiology recommends a bear minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes a week in vigorous intensity, aerobic physical activity or a combination of both. Consistent, sustainable habits are the key to improving cardio efficiency.
A healthy diet is obvious, but research specific to high risk groups of people to CVD has found that each 10gram increase in red meat and processed meat products in the daily diet increased the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 1.8%. A predominantly plant-based diet composition with restricted or limited red meat incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, and nuts might be something to consider with some limited healthy fat fish on ocassion. In terms of body mass index or conditions where people might be overweight or obese, weight loss immediately relieves strain on the heart with lower blood pressure, fat content in the blood that could cause obstructions and stroke, and reduce the likelihood of diabetes. In some serious cases of excessive obesity, surgeries may be an option where medical conditions prevent a person from efficiently metabolising food products.
Mental disorders such as anxiety are associated with an increased risk of CVD and a worse prognosis for those already diagnosed with CVD. In some cases, professional assistance might be something to consider to ensure your routines are adhered to and therefore your successes. For different people this can mean different things – from coaching, mentoring, counselling and even pharmaceutical interventions.
Densely populated areas produce higher levels of pollution and if you are more sensitive to those elements, they can affect your CVD health. Air pollution, fossil fuel and carbon dioxide emissions can affect your respiratory system and your blood content.
This also includes the lifestyle choices that might encourage more alcohol consumption. Perhaps a way to re-set your fitness focus could be a short getaway to jumpstart your fitness and wellness mission.