Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How to prevent heart disease? Some risk factors are connected to family history and genetics, but others depend on your conscious choices and lifestyle. You do not have the power to change your family history and genetics, but you can take steps to reduce the risk of heart disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Anyone at any age can follow these simple tips for preventing heart disease.
1. Do Not Smoke (or Quit)
Smoke is one of the leading causes of heart disease. It creates a buildup of plaque, which eventually blocks the arteries. Smoke reduces the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in your blood and raises blood pressure—the carbon monoxide in smoke displaces some of the oxygen in your blood, which dangerously elevates blood pressure and heart rate because your heart has to work doubly hard to supply enough oxygen. High blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart failure and kidney disease due to the burden it places on the heart and kidneys. And the chemicals in nicotine and tobacco can damage your blood vessels.
If you are not a smoker, you should avoid getting close to people when they smoke because secondhand smoke can affect your health. If you’re a women who smokes and takes birth control pills you are at an even higher risk of having a heart attack due to blood clots.
It is not easy to quit smoking, but the gains are swift. Your risk of coronary heart disease goes down dramatically in as little as a year after quitting, and it drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years.
2. Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
Nutrition and diet play key roles in preventing heart disease. A diet high in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is ideal. High in heart-healthy olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent option to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables help prevent cardiovascular disease. Vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals, and low in calories and high in dietary fiber.
Whole grains are healthier than refined grain products because they contain fiber and other nutrients that regulate blood pressure and heart health.
When it comes to healthy eating, lean meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are the best sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs to perform most biological processes. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to lower blood fats called triglycerides, high levels of which can increase your risk of heart disease. Other great sources of omega-3s include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
Legumes, beans, peas and lentils also contain protein, but they do not have all the essential amino acids. If you are vegetarian or vegan, or you need to lower your meat consumption, particularly red meat, due to heart-health risks, we recommend that you take a supplement to make sure you get all the amino acids that your body needs to thrive.
Read the labels when you go grocery shopping and choose products that are low in saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium. Saturated and trans fats raise the level of blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease—and sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. Finally, keep an eye on how much alcohol you drink, and consume in moderation.
3. Exercise Regularly
Exercising regularly can reduce your cardiovascular risk. Physical activity is essential to help you control your body weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic issues that may affect your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Paying attention to weight gain and measuring your body mass index (BMI) is a good way to make sure your health parameters, such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels are on track. BMIs over 25 are typically associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
For both weight loss and weight maintenance, walking at a brisk pace, for about 30 minutes on most days of the week, is an excellent habit to cultivate. The CDC recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and full-body strength/resistance training on two or more days a week.
If you’re just too busy to dedicate a chunk of your day to exercise, then three 10-minute sessions on most days of the week can make a difference. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog count as movement and can help you achieve or keep a healthy weight. Try to increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts to achieve more benefits.
4. Manage Stress
There is a link between stress and heart disease. Stress can trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which can weaken the cardiovascular and immune systems. If stress becomes chronic, the heart may have to work harder to pump the blood and heart disease may occur.
We all experience stress at different levels and at different times in our lives, and it is essential to know how to manage it. Some people tend to overeat, drink, or smoke to cope with stress, but these habits are detrimental in the long run.
Physical activity and exercise can reduce stress, as can meditation and other breathing techniques. Life gets busy, but family and friends can help you maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Spend quality time with them as often as you can.
Sleep plays a key role in stress management. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Experts recommend sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours a night.
5. Control Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can cause stress to the cardiovascular system and lead to heart disease. Because high blood pressure can trigger heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that you get a blood pressure test at least once every 2 years starting at age 18. If you are age 40 or older, or you are between the ages of 18 and 39 with a risk of hypertension, an annual high blood pressure test is the best way to keep things in check.
You can lower your blood pressure through diet and amino acid therapy, exercise, weight management, stress management, avoiding smoke, and limiting salt intake and alcohol consumption. If you have high blood pressure, work closely with your doctor, monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis, follow the directions on any medications you are prescribed, and make appropriate lifestyle changes.
6. Check Cholesterol Levels
Once every 5 years add a cholesterol level test to the list of your check-ups, starting at age 18. If you have other risk factors, such as family history or genetics, your cholesterol level might already be high at a young age—a cholesterol test early in life can help you become a healthier adult. When cholesterol builds up in your arteries it greatly increases your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack.
Since cholesterol is connected to diabetes, and diabetes can cause heart disease, a test for diabetes can help in heart disease prevention. Per American Diabetes Association guidelines, if your weight is normal and you aren’t at an increased risk for heart disease, start screening at age 45. Your doctor may suggest a screening early in life if you have other heart disease risk factors such as being overweight or having a family history.
Type 2 diabetes may have dangerous consequences on multiple organs in the body when it is left untreated, and it can lead to a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. If you have diabetes, get regular checkups, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.
In addition to these healthy living tips for preventing heart disease, it’s important to visit your health care provider for regular checkups. How often you go depends on your heart disease risk factor. The American Heart Association recommends getting a heart checkup once every 2 years if your blood pressure is in the ideal range, below 120/80 mm Hg. If you are not at risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels can be checked every 4–6 years and blood sugar levels at least every 3 years. CRP screening is advised for patients with a 10–20% chance of a heart attack.