Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States dies from heart disease. While strokes, heart attacks and other cardiac conditions tend to appear in people over 60, 20-somethings should stay vigilant with their heart health too. In fact, heart disease affects 1 in 10 Americans between 20 to 39 years old.
High cholesterol, increased blood pressure, diabetes and smoking are all risk factors for heart disease. Nearly half of Americans of all ages have at least one of those conditions, but making healthy and smart lifestyle choices in your 20s can improve your heart’s future substantially. Think about bringing these habits into your daily regimen to maintain a healthy heart in your 20s.
1. Start a Healthy Relationship with Food
Unhealthy eating plays a big role in developing high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, coronary disease, and Type II diabetes—all major risk factors for heart disease. At the same time, embracing a Mediterranean-style diet while staying mindful of portion sizes can also lower your risk of heart disease.
Fill your plate with fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Steer clear of saturated fats, excess salt, and sugary snacks when you can. Walnut, fish and, other Omega-3-rich foods may slash your cholesterol levels and prevent inflammation and blood clots.
Be mindful of what’s on your plate. Making small lifestyle changes around food is shown to decrease your risk of heart disease at all ages. Maintaining a healthy relationship with food in your 20s is one of the first steps to improving your hearts well-being.
2. Pursue an Active Lifestyle that Keeps you Ticking
Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of heart disease. Adding cardio activities like running, rowing, cycling, and swimming to your workout plan will improve your cardiac health. Cardiovascular workouts keep your heart rate elevated, which improves blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. One Harvard study found people who run, swim laps, or do other cardio activities are 20 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than those who don’t.
Making lifestyle choices around any type of activity can help your heart. The Centers for Disease Control found that diabetes patients who walked just two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease. Even if you’re free of chronic conditions, more movement makes your heart stronger.
Make staying active a part of your 20s by fitting in an activity however you can. If possible, try requesting a standing desk at work. Fit in a walk or run after dinner. Try your hand at a new sport with a Portland city rec league. Strive for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two days of strength training a week. Remember, even adding small changes in movement counts.
3. Avoid Smoking
Smoking is a key risk factor contributing to heart disease. The facts are grim: smoking causes 1 in 3 deaths related to cardiovascular failure. Smoking tobacco can cause blood vessels to thicken and constrict, which increases plaque build up inside them. Even nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are 20 to 30 percent more vulnerable to having a stroke.
There’s still hope for the 1 in 4 young adults who do smoke. Your risk of developing coronary heart disease reduces by half after a year of quitting. We also offer solid resources for smokers looking to quit.
4. Know Your Family’s Health History
Your family history doesn’t explicitly mean you’ll suffer the same cardiac conditions as other family members, but it does increase your chances of heart disease and strokes. Find out if anyone in your family–parents, brothers, sisters or grandparents–has suffered any cardiovascular problems. After learning your family’s health history, bring it to your doctor to discuss lifestyle choices or concerns you may have. Establishing a positive relationship with your doctor around your family’s health will allow them to help you plan your heart’s future accordingly.
5. Make a heart-to-heart plan with your physician
Even if you’re healthy and don’t know your family history, a primary care physician can help detect potential problems early on. Address any health concerns you have, manage medications as directed, and follow your physician’s recommendations when visiting a doctor. Learn to manage hypertension, and prioritize six to eight hours of sleep a night. Northwest Primary Care has knowledgeable staff who can point you in the right direction.
You’ll also want to learn the symptoms of heart attacks and strokes. The American Heart Association recommends you call 9-1-1 if anyone’s experiencing chest or upper body discomfort that lasts for more than several minutes, shortness of breath or a range of other heart attack symptoms. Keep in mind that women sometimes have less obvious warning signs like severe fatigue and nausea.
In a perfect world, everyone would start seeing a doctor for an annual checkup by age 20, but the second best time is now. Your heart will thank you for prioritizing healthy habits at an early age as you progress through your thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and beyond. Treat eating right and exercising as an essential part of your day-to-day routine.
Work with NWPC about pursuing positive lifestyle choices starting as soon as possible, and a healthier heart will serve you for life.
Our infographic shares ways to strengthen your heart while you’re still in your 20s. Take a look!