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Heart Health: It’s How You Play the Hand You’re Dealt

By: Jennifer Fleming  PhD, MS, RD, LDN

The media likes to emphasize that heart health is mostly a hereditary component, and while that can certainly be true, it’s not always about the hand that you’re dealt, but it’s how you play it.

That means younger generations especially should start thinking about how their lifestyles impact their long-term health. If you have a family history of heart health issues, it’s perhaps even more critical that you start engaging in healthy behaviors now.

We tend to think of 40 as the marker for blood pressure issues, but blood pressure issues are occurring with people in their late twenties and early thirties. Add onto that; they’re not getting regular checkups–whether it’s too expensive or don’t have healthcare coverage. They don’t know what’s going on because it’s not always obvious when you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

As part of an assessment course I taught, I collected some data on college students and found that a large portion, as much as 45%, had high cholesterol levels and had no idea. High cholesterol is linked to high blood pressure. Over time, this leads to damage to the endothelial lining of your vessels. When that gets damaged, you’re more prone to LDL oxidation, which increases your bad cholesterol and puts you at risk for heart disease.

It’s becoming a big issue, especially with our lifestyles. We’re very sedentary now. We have a lot of salt in our diet from the processed foods we eat. Many are overweight, and we have high levels of obesity. We may smoke or consume too much alcohol. Those lifestyle choices are damaging to our bodies. We need to take proactive steps to address things within our control – like diet, exercise, and healthy habits.

Heart health isn’t complicated. It can be simple. Of course, there are some aspects of heart health that are inevitable. But don’t underestimate how many factors are within your control–nutrition in particular. Eating whole foods and being mindful of what you’re putting into your body can go a long way.

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