Coronary artery disease (CAD) affects more than 18 million adults over the age of 20 in the U.S. alone. Risk factors for CAD include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, obesity, diabetes, excessive drinking, and smoking.
If you have CAD, making some heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other serious medical complications. The purposes of these changes are:
- To prevent more plaque from building up in your arteries
- To reduce existing plaque
- To limit further blood vessel damage
Having a higher quality of life and a longer life expectancy is achievable with determination and the right attitude. Here are several tips to help you learn how to prevent a heart attack and live a long, active, and full life with CAD.
Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
One of the first and best steps you can take to improve your health is to eat the right foods for your body. Eating healthy is especially important for people with CAD, who should avoid saturated and trans fats, high-cholesterol foods, and salty foods.
Try not to view dieting as restrictive. Instead, focus on making heart-healthy choices like:
- Controlling your portion sizes
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Choosing whole-grain foods over those made with refined flour
- Picking lean protein like chicken breasts, fish, and low-fat yogurt
To help keep yourself on track, plan ahead by creating different menu plans. Meal prepping can also make eating heart-healthy food convenient.
Remember not to punish yourself for the occasional overindulgence. Enjoying a treat sometimes is just fine as long as you are maintaining a consistently healthy diet long-term.
A central part of living a heart-healthy lifestyle is to be active. Some exercises like walking, swimming, and bicycling can help strengthen your heart along with your muscles.
How much exercise you can do safely will depend on your age, risk factors, and overall health condition. It’s important to start slowly and always talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program. They can help you create a personalized exercise plan for your condition.
Decrease Your CAD Risk Factors
The same risk factors that caused your CAD can continue to make it worse. One of the most important tips for living with CAD is to take steps to limit future damage.
Keep an eye on your cholesterol. High cholesterol is a contributing factor to CAD. Try to reduce your cholesterol levels with exercise and a heart-healthy diet. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe medication to help you manage cholesterol levels that are too high.
Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause further blood vessel damage and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. If your blood pressure reading is higher than 130/80, talk to your doctor and take steps to reduce your hypertension risk factors.
Manage your weight. Over 40% of Americans are obese, making this a common risk factor for many health issues. Maintaining a healthy weight can play a big role in preventing further CAD-related health problems.
Quit smoking. Smoking can cause high blood pressure while also restricting blood flow within your blood vessels. This combination makes smoking especially dangerous for people with CAD. Your doctor can help you by offering effective methods or medication to quit smoking.
Avoid excessive alcohol. Many people enjoy a drink on special occasions, but make sure you don’t overdo it with alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to both high blood pressure and heart disease. Heavy drinking is defined as having eight or more alcoholic drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men.
Talk to Your Doctor
Living with CAD impacts every person differently. Your doctor can help you make the best choices for managing CAD based on your unique needs.
Take an active role in managing your health by asking questions, telling your doctor about any changes in your symptoms, and keeping an open line of communication.
It can be helpful to bring a support person along with you to your appointments. It also helps to write down the answers your doctor gives you to any questions you have.
Living Well with CAD
Living with heart disease doesn’t have to feel difficult or daunting. Start by eating heart-healthy foods and remembering to exercise regularly. Maintain an open relationship with your doctor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Following these simple principles will put you on the right track for a longer, happier, and healthier life.