The arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart and branch out into smaller arteries going toward your different organs to supply fresh, oxygen-rich blood. Plaque is a fatty substance that can develop in your arteries, resulting in an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular disease is the primary killer in America with obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol contributing significantly to the development of arterial plaque. The contributing factors are controllable with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Cholesterol and Plaque
Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is a form of cholesterol that can build in your bloodstream to eventually form a plaque that hardens your arteries, in a condition called atherosclerosis. This is a progressive buildup contributed by eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol. A sedentary lifestyle furthers this process when you gain excessive weight by not burning more calories than you consume. Cholesterol and plaque build gradually and may not initially cause symptoms. However, the danger in consuming a poor diet and remaining sedentary is you may not know when your artery walls might rupture and clot. The result of a rupture is heart attack or stroke.
Eat Healthier Fats
Once you discover plaque in your arteries through medical testing, follow physician recommendations and change your diet. Simple changes can reduce the plaque and LDL cholesterol in your arteries. Eliminate saturated fat and trans fat from your diet. These fats are found in red meat, whole dairy and many packaged baked foods. Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated or lean sources of meat from chicken, fish and low-fat dairy. Limit your animal-based food consumption to two or three servings a week. Do not fry your meats and avoid using lard, butter or margarine, which are high in saturated or trans fats.
Add Vegetables, Fruits and Grains
Choose foods that not only decrease cholesterol and plaque accumulation but that also increase your high-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, which acts as an artery scavenger to remove LDL and plaque. A diet founded in plant-based foods significantly increases your HDL and reduces your risk of arterial plaque. Eat leafy green vegetables like collards and spinach or broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Snack on fruit like berries and oranges. Eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every day to increase your HDL and choose whole wheat breads and pastas instead of white, processed grains. Avoid packaged junk foods and aim to eat fresh food found on the perimeter of the grocery store. Steam your vegetables or eat them raw. Use herbs and spices instead of salt. Try to drink eight glasses of water a day and avoid sodas and sugar-filled beverages.
Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day
Exercise is essential to heart health and reduces your cholesterol and plaque levels. Exercise can also help you lose excess weight if this is a contributor to arterial blockage. Start with 30 minutes a day and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Increase your workout time each week until you reach 60 minutes a day. Add variety to your workout and try fitness classes on video or at the gym. Get a bike and go for a ride a few times a week to vary your routine or work with a personal trainer to learn specific ways to tone your body while you regain your health. Consult your physician before starting an exercise routine to ensure safety.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What is Coronary Artery Disease?
- Mayo Clinic: Arteriosclerosis/Atherosclerosis
- Mayo Clinic: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity Improves Your Quality of Life
- Harvard Health Publications: Atherosclerosis: Exercise Essential in Combating Arterial Disease