The cardiovascular system is made up of 4 structures: heart, arteries, veins and capillaries. Different diseases affect these structures such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke. Some of these diseases have no symptoms until very late in their onset. It is important to keep your risk of cardiovascular disease to a minimum through a healthy lifestyle. Now, a healthy lifestyle will not completely eliminate your risk but it can greatly lower your heart disease risk.
There are three main parts to any healthy lifestyle program: physical activity, good nutrition and not using tobacco products. One mistake a lot of individuals make when deciding on “getting back into shape” or “leading a healthy life” is that they try and make too many changes at one time. Pick one change in one of the parts of a healthy lifestyle program. Don’t stop smoking, start exercising and completely change your diet all at the same time. That is a lot to take on, might increase stress (which is not good for the heart) and is the formula for failure. Start small, add one piece of fruit every three days then do it every day. After that becomes habit pick something else, a 10-minute walk on 4 days of the week or eliminating one can of soda. Then maybe work on stopping the use of tobacco. Small steps make a big difference when it comes to cardiovascular health.
You also need to be aware of your risk factors. Risk factors are things that increase your chances of developing a certain disease. With cardiovascular disease there are many risk factors some are under your control, like the factors listed above (physical activity, nutrition, tobacco) and others are not (age, gender, race, genetics). Awareness of the factors you cannot control is also a part of a healthy lifestyle. What do you need to be aware of? Is there heart disease in your family? Does a member of the family have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a heart attack at an early age? Those things are important to know and can help direct your program.
The best thing you can do is start. Even if you are unable to add more time to your 10 minute walk or another fruit to your diet you are doing more now with the walk and that additional fruit to reduce cardiovascular disease then you were before. Small changes toward a healthy lifestyle have huge benefits.
Make the most of the day you are given.
Randall J. Bergman, Ph.D.
Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation
Missouri Western State University
Office – 816-271-4474