Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Up to one-third of these deaths may be preventable through healthy lifestyle choices including diet and physical activity, which are mainstays in general health discussions.
Dietary modifications usually carry variables specific for disease or condition, but we will focus on cardiovascular risk reduction. The Mediterranean diet, consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and a moderate intake of fish, seafood, dairy and wine is associated with reduced cardiovascular death rate.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan also is associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease. The DASH eating plan consists of a high intake of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, and a low intake of total and saturated fat and cholesterol.
Current research points to a greater importance of viewing diet as a whole, rather than focusing on specific nutrients. A high quality diet, one associated with high fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish, should be the goal.
Physical activity is recommended to promote improved cardiovascular health. All adults should avoid sedentary lifestyles or inactivity, as elimination of sedentary lifestyle alone can decrease cardiovascular disease risk, as well as stroke risk.
Recommendations for physical activity for adults healthy enough to exercise is a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in 10-minute increments and be spread throughout the week.
Exercise should be tailored to individual long-term goals and safely attainable intensity levels. Exercise is associated with lower cardiovascular risk, and this benefit increases as physical activity increases. Physical activity can be achieved in numerous ways, whether through formal gym activities such as swimming, yoga, weights and sports, or general activities, such as dancing, walking, gardening and bicycling.
When designing a healthier lifestyle plan, it is important to recognize that combined dietary and physical activity modifications is more beneficial than either alone. As we age, there will always be difficulties sustaining meaningful lifestyle changes. Routine counseling with your primary care provider can help prevent lengthy lapses in adherence and aid in any difficulties that prevent continued health benefits from being obtained.
Dr. Dustin Devers, a hospitalist with Baptist Health Medical Group Hospital Medicine, practices at Baptist Health Richmond.