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Heart disease was once the most feared disease in the Western world. It seemed to claim people, right in the prime of their lives, cutting them down without mercy. In the 1970s, heart disease was such a problem that top officials saw no other option but to take drastic action and suggest to people that they eat better and take control of their health.

Thanks to these efforts combined with better treatment, deaths from heart disease have slowly fallen. Yet, despite all the talk about cancer, heart disease kills more people every year. In other words, it remains our biggest killer and the thing that is most likely to finish us off once we retire.

The cool thing about heart disease, however, is that unlike cancer, how to prevent it has been thoroughly researched. Here are some science-backed ways to prevent heart disease from cutting your life short.

Head Straight To The Pound And Adopt A Dog

Researchers have long touted the benefits of owning a dog for all sorts of reasons, from making kids stand up more to keeping granny company. But researchers have also found that dogs help to reduce the risk factors of heart disease, like high blood pressure. It turns out that when people are alone, their blood pressure increases and they experience higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In the past, it was thought that the only way to bring this down was to spend more time with other people. In other words, the only solution to the nation’s high blood pressure problem was to solve the loneliness problem. But researchers discovered that the same effect was observed when people were around dogs: their blood pressure and stress hormones went down. For that reason, it might be worth heading straight to the pound, especially if you live alone.

Take Supplements Along With Exercise

Scientists have known for decades that moderate exercise helps to reduce the size of unstable plaques on the inside of arteries. But recently, researchers reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that adding the supplement L-arginine along with vitamin C could enhance the restorative effect of exercise. When exercisers added these supplements to their daily diet, they experienced a more rapid reduction in the extent of their arteriosclerotic plaque than those who didn’t supplement. According to the researchers, adding the supplement increased the production of nitric oxide, allowing the blood vessels to open up and protecting them from further damage from agents in the blood.

If You’ve Had A Heart Attack, Invite A Friend Over For Dinner

If you’ve already had a heart attack, the last thing you want is another one. Multiple heart attacks can lead to worsening cardiomegaly – enlargement of the heart – leaving you feeling weak and out of breath. For decades, researchers have been investigating possible ways to reduce the recurrence of heart attacks, and to their surprise, they’ve found that having a close relationship with another person is the most effective tool in the tool kit.

A paper published in the journal Heart back in 2004 found that people who had close relationships with another person, whether it was a partner, a member of their family or a friend, suffered 50 percent fewer instances of heart diseases than those who didn’t. This stunning result again highlights the importance of having close personal relationships.

Drive With The Windows Closed

When you drive on the road, you expose yourself to all sorts of airborne pollutants. These pollutants are not harmless: not only do they increase your risk of cancer, but they can also affect your heart. According to scientists at Harvard Medical School, airborne pollutants decrease something called “heart rate variability.” Heart rate variability is the amount your heart beat can speed up or slow down, depending on your body’s demand for oxygen. If you’re sitting still, the demand is low; if you’re running, the demand is high. People with low heart rate variability are at a higher risk of heart disease, and so anything that reduces heart rate variability is potentially very dangerous. Harvard recommends, therefore, that people use their air conditioning instead of opening their windows, as their cars have filters that filter out many of the dangerous particles.

Take Long Weekends

The University of Pittsburgh began following a community of men in the town of Framingham back in the 1950s in order to find out which lifestyle factors cause heart disease. The Framingham studies have led to all sorts of interesting conclusions, including the fact that meat is bad for your heart.

One of the lesser-known outcomes of that study was the finding that men who took regular vacations cut their risk of heart disease by more than a third. Of course, back then vacations really were vacations, since there were no cell phones, laptops, and email servers to stay in touch with work. If you want the positive effects of vacations, then you actually have to leave work behind and concentrate on having fun.

Be Wary Of The Basics

Heart disease isn’t an inevitable thing. Researchers have known since at least the 1940s that some populations simply don’t get heart disease at all. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the basics. People who eat whole plant food, don’t smoke and take moderate exercise, rarely if ever get the disease. A study in 2003 found that people avoiding harmful lifestyle factors almost entirely escape heart problems in their latter years.

Eat Cherries

Cherries, as well as other small fruits, like berries, are packed with anthocyanins, an antioxidant that gives berries and cherries their distinctive purple-red color. This antioxidant has been shown to reduce the amount of uric acid in the blood, a risk factor for developing serious cardiovascular disease. Eating a bowl of cherries every day will reduce the levels of uric acid in your blood and actively help repair the lining of your arteries.

If cherries are out of season or too expensive, blackberries and blueberries are great substitutes, as both of these berries contain the same active ingredient.

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