Heart Health and Why We Struggle with Habits of Disease

04.22.21 |

Last week, we talked about bone health and how our Habits of Health can protect us from diseases like Osteoporosis and other complications that can come with weak bones. Continuing that theme, heart health is another area of our wellbeing where we can prevent serious problems with our habits and, in some cases, reverse damage or disease.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, coronary artery disease contributes to approximately one million heart attacks annually. Of those one million heart attacks, 220,000 are fatal.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that even small changes in our habits can radically affect our heart health, which means that we have a lot to gain by building heart-friendly Habits of Health. Even better news: The choices you make to protect your heart are also often good for your bones and several other aspects of your health, so making a good choice for your heart means benefits across the spectrum of your health.

How to Prevent Heart Disease

Here are some of the ways you can prevent, and potentially reverse, heart disease:

    • Exercise. Adding motion to your routine in any capacity is almost always a boost for your health. For heart disease, vigorous, scheduled exercise can help, but so does relatively less challenging exercise like walking 10,000 steps a day.
    • Fuelings. If you follow the Habits of Healthy Fuelings, you can eliminate many of the major problem foods (like refined sugar and sodium) that contribute to heart disease and eat more of the foods that have been found to promote heart health (like vegetables and fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids).
    • Stop smoking. This tip is not a surprise, but it is worth emphasizing if you haven’t yet quit tobacco. No matter how long you have smoked, quitting is always the best option for your health, so make that day today if this applies to you.
    • Moderate your alcohol consumption. Like smoking, the risks associated with excessive drinking are fairly well known. If you limit your drinking to one drink per day (4 oz. of wine, for example), your heart is much better off.
    • Talk to your healthcare provider. Before you make any changes to your lifestyle, talk to a medical expert about your family history and what choices are right for your situation. They may also recommend cholesterol tests and monitoring.

Focus on Rewards, Not Fear

The challenge with these kinds of topics is that you probably already knew most of these tips. Heart disease is a common problem in our society, and no one is surprised that smoking, or excessive drinking, or not exercising leads to serious health problems. We all know that they do.

So why do so many of us still struggle with these things?

Part of it is how our habits are built. We may want to stop, but the momentum of decades of making poor health choices has entrenched Habits of Disease into our routine, making it difficult to change course. 

The other part of the problem is that losing something is not as appealing to our brains as gaining something. We are programmed to seek rewards because that’s how our Stone Age ancestors survived. Finding a warm, dry place to sleep is a reward. Finding food is a reward. Finding water is a reward.

If you look at the list of heart health tips above, health experts are mostly talking about what not to do and what to give up. To build Habits of Health that last, one of the best steps you can take is to reframe this journey around what you gain from these choices. Putting down a cigarette or not eating that bucket of fried chicken is not about losing the pleasure response you get from those choices. It’s ultimately about living longer so that you get more memories with the people you love.

You gain time. You gain opportunities. You gain experiences. 

Think of what really matters to you when you make choices about your wellbeing–heart health included–and you will find your journey to be more sustainable and also more rewarding.