Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. However, deaths due to heart disease are decreasing.

Progress in medicine and changes in lifestyle habits account for much of this decrease. It may only take a few simple changes to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Heart disease is often caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a process where plaque slowly builds up in the blood vessel wall over many years.

When a blood vessel is blocked, blood and oxygen cannot reach cells in nearby tissues. The lack of oxygen can cause damage to that tissue. If a blockage occurs in a vessel going to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.

If it occurs in a vessel going to the brain, it can cause a stroke

There are many factors which can increase your risk of heart disease. Factors may increase risk by contributing to plaque formation or rupture, blood clotting.

Some risk factors like increasing age, gender, and family history of heart disease cannot be changed.

However, risk factors that can be changed include high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity (especially in the abdominal area), physical inactivity, smoking, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and a diet of low consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and low-fat milk.

Some guidelines to help lower the risk of heart disease are to maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight or moderate weight loss can help lower LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, prevent or help control diabetes, and to be physically active each day.

Regular physical activity can help with weight control, lower LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, raise HDL cholesterol, with glucose control.

hysical activity guidelines are for adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week.

Choose foods with less total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

When consuming fats, choose more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils.

Keeping total fat and cholesterol intake within recommended levels and choosing unsaturated fats and oils over saturated and trans fats can help lower LDL cholesterol, with weight control, lower risk of high blood pressure, consume ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood and low-fat milk.

These foods provide helpful nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower the risk of atherosclerosis, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which may help lower the risk of high blood pressure.

Choose foods with less added salt and sodium.

Keeping sodium within recommended levels can help lower blood pressure among sodium sensitive people. Use alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake can help lower blood pressure.

Moderate alcohol intake is not more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Also, abstain from smoking. Smoking can raise blood pressure and heart rate and lower HDL cholesterol. Smoking can also increase the risk of blood clots.

If you would like to learn more about heart health, Aprons & Lace Oklahoma Home and Community Education club will be hosting a heart health nutrition and exercise workshop Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cherokee County Community Building in Tahlequah. The public is invited.

For more information, or to schedule a program locally about financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, or Oklahoma Home and Community Education, contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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