04/13/2016 01:30 EDT | Updated 04/14/2017 05:12 EDT

Why We're All At Risk For Heart Disease


While you read this, someone in Canada will die.

I'm assuming that it'll take you about seven minutes to read and contemplate the contents of this blog. And during that time, at least one Canadian is statistically destined to die from a stroke or heart attack.

That's how often it happens. And we're all ultimately at risk once we reach middle age.

If you're still relatively young, don't roll your eyes because you don't think this topic is relevant to you. Instead, consider this sobering fact: While a heart attack comes on quickly, cardiovascular disease typically develops over many years, even decades.

If you don't take proper care of yourself, your body's blood flow may eventually become severely obstructed.

So unless you stay extremely fit your whole life, you're going to experience a gradual reduction in the rate of blood flow throughout your body, including your brain, as you age.

Unfortunately, this is a natural and somewhat unavoidable progression. And it's due to a build-up of a waxy substance -- known as plaque -- which begins to accumulate in your arteries as early as childhood.

If you don't take proper care of yourself, your body's blood flow may eventually become severely obstructed. In turn, this will likely set you up for a heart attack.

However, this gradual impairment of your circulatory system can be kept under control with a very healthy lifestyle.

So how will you know if you're in the danger zone already? Some of the most obvious symptoms of a dangerous build-up of plaque include shortness of breath, chest pain, and numbness or tingling in your legs and arms.

If you experience any of these symptoms, get immediate attention at a nearby hospital. Or at least consult your doctor for a thorough check-up.

While not all forms of heart disease are avoidable, here are four things you can do to reduce the odds of developing too much plaque in your arteries:

Maintain a healthy body weight: Being overweight can lead to numerous health risks, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and a cascade of other degenerative diseases.

At the very least, excess weight increases blood pressure and elevates "bad" cholesterol levels -- the kind that leads to plaque in your arteries.

In particular, belly fat can be very problematic by promoting insulin resistance. This negative condition makes it increasingly difficult to lose weight. It's also a precursor for type 2 diabetes.

Also, a build-up of "visceral" belly fat (the internal kind that envelopes your liver and intestines) can be even worse. This hidden health hazard triggers chronic internal inflammation -- which pro-aging. Worst still, it can also cause heart disease.

Exercise regularly: Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes every day, even if it's just fast-paced walking or doing some yoga. Ideally, you should also work out with weights at least twice a week.

Even if you can only manage something far less strenuous, it all helps. Truth be told, all forms of exercise make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body.

Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure. In fact, studies show that regular moderate physical activity (at least twice a week) can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 40%.

Eat a healthy diet: Choose a diet that's high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean proteins. Avoid one that's full of saturated fat, sugar, and salt (think processed/junk foods).

This will minimize your risk of being weakened by high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. All of these conditions should be avoided at all costs as they increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Avoid cigarettes: People who smoke cigarettes are two to three times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers.

Then there's lung cancer, emphysema, and a whole laundry list of other ills caused by this entirely avoidable and treatable addiction. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the various options available to assist you in quitting.

In summary, if you want to avoid the threat of becoming unfortunate statistic -- at least not any time soon -- you need to take good care of your hard-working heart.

To achieve this, all you have to do is watch your weight, get some regular exercise, eat healthily, and avoid cigarettes.

Avoiding cardiovascular disease and an eventual cardiac arrest isn't just in your own best interests. You also owe it to your loved ones, too, and anyone else who depends on you -- financially or otherwise. Now take that advice to heart!

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