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Making Changes to Prevent Heart Disease

Your heart is a vital organ that keeps your body functioning. But many people don't treat it that way. They may not realize that their daily habits and lifestyle can overwork and damage their hearts. So, take care of your heart and yourself. Start by making these lifestyle changes.

Get smoke-free

Man throwing a pack of cigarettes in a trash can.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Nicotine causes blood vessels to tighten and narrow. This makes it hard for blood to reach your heart muscle and temporarily raises blood pressure. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke lessens the amount of oxygen that gets to the heart. That's why smokers have twice the risk for heart attacks compared with nonsmokers. So if you smoke, think about quitting. Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to quit. Medicines and nicotine replacements can help. And try to stay away from secondhand smoke. It's also bad for your heart.

Eat heart-friendly foods

Eating fatty foods plays a part in the buildup of fat in your arteries. This can lead to blocked arteries of your heart and increases the risk for a heart attack. Limit fatty meats, whole-milk products, and fried foods. Instead, choose nonfat milk or low-fat dairy products. Also choose healthier cooking oils made with unsaturated fats, such as canola, avocado, grapeseed, corn, and olive oils. But since they are fat, use them in limited amounts. Also try to eat 2 cups of fruit, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, and 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. They're good for you, and they fill you up.

Set exercise goals

Exercise gets your heart pumping. This helps your body use oxygen better and makes your heart stronger. It can also decrease your blood pressure and the amount of fat in your blood. Start your exercise program slowly, especially if you haven't been active for a while. Start with short sessions, such as 10-minute walks. Gradually increase the length of your workouts to at least 30 to 40 minutes, 4 to 5 days a week. Experts advise getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week for substantial health benefits. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting or changing an exercise program.

Watch your blood pressure

Make sure your blood pressure is in the healthy range or under control. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure is the force against the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. The harder your heart works, the greater your risk for having a heart attack. Making smart lifestyle choices such as eating a diet low in sodium, exercising regularly, staying away from tobacco, reducing stress, and limiting alcohol will decrease your risk of getting high blood pressure.

Watch your weight

The American Heart Association (AHA) considers overweight and obesity to be major risk factors for heart disease. If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease your risk. Reaching or maintaining an ideal weight also helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When your weight is in the ideal range, your body works more efficiently. And, you are less likely to develop conditions like diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, certain cancers, and sleep apnea.

Reduce stress

Continuous high stress has been consistently linked to health problems. These include an increased risk for heart disease and cardiac death or death from heart disease. Anger is tightly linked with risk for cardiac death. Common ways of dealing with stress, such as overeating and smoking, can further harm your heart. Try to keep your stress low by exercising, sharing your concerns with friends and family, and making some quiet time for yourself each day. Spending 15 to 20 minutes every day doing something you enjoy is a simple but effective step toward a less stressful life.

The AHA recommends regular screening for your risk for heart disease starting at age 20. Screening includes measuring blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and pulse each regular healthcare visit or at least every 2 years. Getting a cholesterol test every 5 years for normal-risk people is also recommended.

Maintain a healthy cholesterol level

An important fact to know about cholesterol is having high levels in your blood can begin early in life and continue throughout your lifetime. This can increase your lifetime risk of developing conditions such as a heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for these conditions. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque and causes inflammation. The plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. This narrows the opening for blood flow. Over time, the heart and brain may not get enough oxygen. This can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke. If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your healthcare provider will help you with steps to take to lower your levels.

Healthy eating, regular exercise, weight management, and quitting smoking are good steps toward keeping your cholesterol down. These things can also lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. Your provider may also prescribe medicine to lower bad cholesterol levels. If your healthcare provider prescribes medicine, take it exactly as directed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Callie Tayrien RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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