We all worry about our health, just to different degrees. Some are almost obsessive about counting calories, making sure they’re eating all the “right” foods, and so on. Others take a more relaxed approach, and still others must make do with what they can afford because they don’t have any other choice. There are things that everyone worries about, however, and one of those things is heart disease.
What is Heart Disease, Exactly?
Heart disease is a sort of umbrella term for various conditions, most of which are related to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which makes it harder for blood to flow through. This process is called atherosclerosis. Stroke and heart attack are two diseases most commonly associated with atherosclerosis.
There are other heart diseases which don’t necessarily come about due to atherosclerosis. For instance, arrhythmia (abnormal rhythm of the heart) is caused by problems with the electrical signals which control the heartbeat. Another example is valve prolapse, which can be caused by genetics or by other health problems like connective tissue diseases.
What Factors Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?
Heart disease can’t necessarily be blamed on just one thing. There are a variety of factors which influence your likelihood of getting heart disease.
Genetics play a role, of course. Diet, exercise habits, and even how much sleep you get can affect your chances. Stress levels can contribute, as how much stress you deal with in life affects hormone levels in your body, which influences your ability to take care of yourself and how your body works (for example, the formation of blood clots is affected by hormone levels).
What Can I Do to Prevent It?
Since there’s no surefire way to avoid heart disease completely, the best strategy is to try to prevent it. Altering your genetics post-birth, or even before birth, to remove that factor isn’t quite within reach yet. You’ll need to change what you can, rather than dwell on what you can’t.
Diet and exercise are likely the things you’ll first hear about when you talk to a doctor about heart disease. While you can make changes, bear in mind that those changes will be limited by things like how much time you can dedicate to shopping, personal finances, if there are places to shop which are very accessible to you, etc. Also, if you have a condition which limits how much exercise you can do to begin with or what foods you can eat, you and your doctor will have to come up with workable solutions or else accept that these factors are not within your control.
The same goes for sleep and stress levels. While ideally you would take steps to get more sleep, or better quality sleep, and reduce stress, life is more complex.
Sometimes your job just won’t allow for a day off or for another way to cut down on your stress level. Sometimes you’re going to have to work very long hours and give up on getting a proper night’s sleep. As with exercise and diet, you’re going to have to work with what you have.