Heart disease may be the biggest problem our society faces because it’s the leading cause of death among adults. It claims 611,000 lives each year. This silent killer is to blame for nearly 25% of U.S. deaths.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, heart disease is also a serious expense. Nearly 26.6 million people in America find out they have it each year. This results in 2 million in-patient procedures and 3.7 million hospital stays. The average length of these stays is 4.6 days.
If you’ve never had to spend a night in the hospital, you’re lucky. For those who need extended care for heart disease, the costs can add up quickly. After various tests, medications, and even heart surgery, a stay can cost $50,000 or more!
These costs take their toll. Unpaid medical bills are still the leading costs that lead to bankruptcy in America. Health insurance is only a partial solution to this problem. As many as 10 million adults with health insurance will be forced to file bankruptcy due to medical bills. Another 35 million will be contacted by a collection agency about a medical bill, while 15 million will use up all their savings to pay for medical care.
Given these staggering statistics, preventing heart disease is one of the best investments you can make in your future. While some causes of heart disease are genetic, family history represents only part of the contributing factors. Behavioral changes can seriously reduce your risk of this life-threatening (and expensive) disease.
If you want to tackle heart disease, here are five steps you can take to keep those doctor bills at bay:
1.) Quit smoking to prevent heart disease
If you currently smoke, quitting today is the single greatest step you can take to prevent heart disease in your future, since cigarette smoking is the single greatest risk factor in people under age 50. Nicotine prevents the absorption of good cholesterol, therefore raising the level of bad cholesterol. It also hardens arteries and increases blood pressure, both of which are linked to increased risk of heart disease. Smoking contributes to almost one in three deaths from heart disease. It doesn’t matter what you smoke, either. Cigars, cigarettes, and “e-cigarettes” all contain nicotine. The same is true for smokeless tobacco in all forms. Quitting is hard, but you can survive nicotine withdrawal.
2.) Increase your fiber intake
Fiber does three things for your heart. First, it makes you feel full, which decreases the number of calories you consume. This contributes to weight loss, improves circulation, and lowers the risk of heart disease. Second, because you can’t digest fiber, it lowers your blood sugar. Lower blood sugar helps prevent arterial hardening, another contributor to heart disease. Finally, high fiber concentrations help clear out your arteries, pushing out arterial plaque that can cause heart disease. A recent study found that the fiber found in vegetables and beans) reduces the risk of heart disease dramatically, and doesn’t have a diminishing return. The more fiber you get, the healthier your heart is.
3.) Get moving
Much like a diet, exercise does a lot to influence your overall health. You don’t have to be a gym rat or become a long-distance runner to see the benefits, either. A new review of medical literature suggests that 30 minutes of daily accumulated activity is enough to see benefits. For instance, six five-minute walks around your office floor, or two 15-minute sessions chasing your pet around the yard can help. Even taking public transportation instead of driving can get you walking to improve your health.
4.) Manage your stress
Stress is one of the biggest contributors to high blood pressure. Instead of eliminating stress from your life, work on developing techniques to manage it. For example, practice positive self-talk, where you encourage yourself to tackle the challenges you face. Make time to engage in activities you enjoy, like reading or card games. Practice daily relaxation, giving yourself five minutes to do nothing but unwind. Finally, find ways to immediately unplug from a stressful situation, like counting to ten before you speak or breaking impossible tasks down into smaller pieces. You won’t just feel better. You’ll live longer.
5.) Get regular check-ups
Despite all the good habits in the world, you may still have some risk of heart disease. Therefore, getting regular check-ups from a doctor can help detect these early. Early detection can result in less costly and more effective solutions. Instead of a surgical repair to a ruptured or weakened artery, a blood pressure medication may help prevent the worst damage. By getting regular checkups, you can show your doctor a better picture of your overall heart health, which will improve his or her ability to recommend treatments.
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