Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the U.S., but there are things you can do regularly to boost your heart health. Coronary heart disease (CHD), or when the arteries that supply blood to the heart narrow or become blocked, is the most common type of heart disease. The loss of blood flow to the heart can lead to a heart attack. While there are risk factors for CHD you simply can’t change—such as your age, sex, race or ethnicity, and family history—there are other things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
- Know your family’s medical history. Awareness of your family’s health history can help you take preventative steps and get ahead of heart disease before it becomes an issue. Ask family members about their health and discuss your risks with your healthcare provider.
- Quit smoking, or never start. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. The good news is that your risk for heart disease greatly lowers after 1 year of quitting smoking. Think about why you smoke and why you haven’t quit, and then check out helpful resources to shake the habit once and for all.
- Monitor your mental health. Although the link between stress and heart disease isn’t clear, chronic stress might cause people to cope in unhealthy ways such as smoking, drinking too much, or overeating. Stress also might raise your blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease. So, make stress your ally to manage it effectively. Depression symptoms might worsen cardiovascular health too, especially if you eat unhealthy foods or live a sedentary lifestyle. Keep in mind help is available, and mental fitness could improve your heart health.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests 1–2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. Drinking too much alcohol raises the levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in your blood, which can contribute to heart disease. While you might have heard some alcohol (for example, red wine) can be good for you, the research is still mixed. If you don’t already drink alcohol, AHA suggests skipping it entirely to keep your heart healthy, so get good at sticking to “no.”
- Keep cholesterol under control. Your food choices can affect your cholesterol and triglycerides, which are waxy substances in the bloodstream that can clog arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. AHA suggests adults ages 20 and older get their cholesterol levels checked every 4–6 years.
- Manage diabetes. High glucose levels in your blood can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. If you have diabetes, knowing your diabetes ABCs can help you take control of your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Balance your energy by burning at least as many calories as you take in. Try tracking your food choices to notice your calories in (what you eat and drink) and calories out (energy used during physical activity and metabolic processes such as breathing and digestion). Focus on nutrition too. Enjoy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes to get lots of protein, fiber, nutrients, and minerals as part of a healthy eating plan. Fuel up to perform well and beat heart disease.
- Move more. Commit to at least 30 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity at least 5 days a week to keep your heart healthy and ward off other risks for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high levels of “bad” cholesterol, or excess weight.
- Be aware of your blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension can lead to heart attacks or stroke. Get your blood pressure taken at your yearly physical and know what the numbers mean.
When it comes to heart disease, there are some risk factors you can’t change. But with healthy lifestyle choices, you can lower your risk of developing heart disease and keep your heart healthy and happy.
American Heart Association. (2018). Stress and heart health. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Smoking and Health. (2014). Smoking and cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_CVD_508.pdf
MedlinePlus. (2018). How to prevent heart disease. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/howtopreventheartdisease.html
MedlinePlus. (2018). Heart diseases. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/heartdiseases.html
National Cholesterol Education Program & NHLBI Obesity Education Initiative. (2005). Your guide to lowering your cholesterol with TLC. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/chol_tlc.pdf