Through Diet, Exercise, and Risk Reduction
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the progressive narrowing of the arteries that provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This narrowing results from waxy deposits called plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. If an artery becomes totally blocked, a heart attack can occur. Fortunately, while there is no known cure for CAD, you can slow or stop its progression by reducing your intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fats, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure, and reducing risk factors like smoking, all of which are known to contribute to the development of CAD.
“Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol
Cholesterol is an essential part of every cell, but too much cholesterol in the blood has been linked to the artery-clogging formation of plaque. Depending on how it’s “packaged,” cholesterol can be either “good” or “bad. ” Cholesterol is “bad” when it’s bundled in a ball of protein called low density lipoprotein, or LDL. LDL transports cholesterol to the arterial wall where it is absorbed into the slowly growing plaque. High density lipoprotein (HDL)—the “good” cholesterol, removes cholesterol from the artery wall and slows, or may even prevent, the development of plaque.
Dietary Cholesterol and Saturated Fats
Cholesterol and fat are the main components of plaque, so it makes sense to reduce your intake of foods containing these substances. Cholesterol is mainly found in foods of animal origin. Saturated fat is any fat that remains solid at room temperature and is found primarily in meat and dairy products. For healthy people, it is best to limit your daily cholesterol intake to 250-300 milligrams, and your fat intake to no more than 30% of your total daily calories.
Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, can help reduce your risk of CAD. Aerobic exercise strengthens and conditions the heart muscle itself, helping it to distribute oxygen more efficiently. Regular vigorous exercise also increases the body’s level of HDL and is an important aspect of weight control. Since excess weight increases the amount of work the heart must do, maintaining your ideal weight places less stress on the heart.
Quitting smoking and controlling blood pressure are two key components of reducing your risk for heart disease. Besides reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood, smoking can also weaken arterial walls. Quitting smoking can reverse these processes. High blood pressure can also damage coronary arteries. Have your blood pressure checked every 1-2 years (if it is currently normal), and follow your healthcare professional’s advice regarding blood pressure control. It’s never too early to reduce your risks and start being heart smart.
- Limit your intake of cholesterol and saturated – fats.
- Do some form of vigorous exercise at least 3 times a week.
- Reduce your risk by stopping smoking and controlling blood pressure.