Most people are familiar with the dangers of heart disease. However, fewer people are aware of the fact that blockages in your blood vessels can also have serious consequences. The good news is that lifestyle is known to play a role in the prevention and managing of many of these conditions.
The following text is based on information made available by the Society for Vascular Disease, The Vascular Society for Great Britain and Ireland and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is meant for general purposes only, and does not constitute any form of medical guidance or diagnosis. Do not rely on it as a substitute for actual medical guidance or diagnosis. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to address any questions or concerns you may have.
What is vascular disease?
Vascular diseases affect your circulatory system. This huge network of arteries and veins distribute blood throughout your body, but is vulnerable to many conditions that can damage it. According to the Vascular Society for Great Britain and Ireland, most vascular health conditions are related to a hardening of your arteries, pipes that distribute blood high in oxygen and nutrients. This is known as atherosclerosis, and causes your arteries to become less flexible. Some vascular conditions are Peripheral Arterial Disease — atherosclerosis affecting arteries outside of the heart and brain —, varicose veins and venous insufficiency — where superficial veins become dilated and irregular —, and venous insufficiency — where the lower leg is usually affected.
How to prevent vascular disease through diet and lifestyle
While there are many factors at play — some ailments may be caused by a genetic predisposition — experts agree that in most cases simple lifestyle changes can go a long way and lower risk of developing vascular disease or worsening an already existing condition. According to Vascular Society, some steps you can make are:
Quit smoking: Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke inflame the cells in your blood vessels, which can in turn narrow them and lead to many cardiovascular conditions, like atherosclerosis, Coronary Heart Disease or strokes, to name a few. According to the CDC, smoking is the most common preventable cause of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). Quitting smoking is therefore guaranteed to lower your risk of many of these conditions, and will positively impact your overall health. However quitting can be difficult, so talk to your healthcare provider to find what resources or programs are available.
Stay active: An active attack, experts note, can lower your risk of vascular disease, but also protects you from heart attacks, strokes and amputation. Physical activity does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. The Circulation Foundation suggests some simple exercises, like heel raises, step-ups or walking on your toes. It is important to set attainable goals and talk to your doctor before exercising if you already suffer from vascular disease or are taking medication. If you need motivation, turn exercising into a social activity and surround yourself with friends and family.
Eat healthily: A healthy diet, experts say, protects you from atherosclerosis, since it reduces the risk of “bad” cholesterol accumulating in your arteries. Generally speaking, experts advise eating plenty of fruit and veg, cutting down on added sugars and salt, and choosing healthier fats. A healthy diet is one that gets all the nutrients you need from a wide range of food sources in the right proportions, while leaving room for some flexibility.
Lose weight: Diet and exercise may impact your body weight. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor to explore how you can lose weight in a way that is safe for both your physical and mental health.
Cut down on alcohol: too much alcohol can increase your “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL) and blood pressure, which puts you at a greater risk of heart disease, according to specialists. Reducing your alcohol intake and sticking to recommendations (no more than 14 units a week, according to the NHS) is advised.
Other factors: several conditions can heighten the risk of vascular disease, according to Vascular Society authors. These include high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from them. The good news is a healthy lifestyle can help with them, so the strategies mentioned above are still valid.