Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 18.2 million adults ages 20 and older have coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, the most common type.
Certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors can increase your risk of developing heart disease – including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, a poor diet and drinking too much alcohol. The good news? There are things you can start doing today to significantly lower your risk.
10 Steps Toward a Healthier Heart
Making positive changes to your lifestyle can go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy. Here are some helpful general tips for getting started.
- Keep moving: Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular wellbeing and helps you stay at a healthy weight. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you try for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, like brisk walking; 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity like running; and two or more strength training sessions a week. But even shorter exercise episodes can have significant benefits, and you can work your way up.
- Stop smoking: Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, and it is a significant risk factor for a number of other dangerous health conditions like stroke, cancer and respiratory disease. These risk factors decrease as soon as you stop smoking.
- Begin with a healthy breakfast: A healthy breakfast full of fiber, protein, healthy fat and nutrient-rich produce will keep you full and fuel your body without adding unhealthy sugar and cholesterol. This can include meals such as oatmeal with berries, yogurt with nuts, avocado on whole-grain toast or low-sugar smoothies. The American Heart Association offers some other helpful suggestions.
- Reduce salt and sugar: Don’t over-salt the food you prepare and avoid eating too many processed foods, baked goods or restaurant meals, which tend to pack in a lot of extra sodium and sugar. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels promote inflammation and can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
- Consider a plant-heavy diet plan: Fruits and veggies have lots of essential nutrients and can help lower your cholesterol and reduce other heart disease risk factors. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet are two well-known, heart-healthy diet options, but consult your doctor before starting any diet plans.
- Watch your weight: Carrying extra weight, especially around the middle of your body, increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Visit your doctor to see if you’re at a healthy BMI. If you need to lose weight, consider the exercise and diet advice from your doctor.
- Limit alcohol: While one glass of red wine a few days a week may have some benefit, excessive alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for heart disease and many other health conditions.
- Get a handle on stress: It may not be easy, but reducing stress can help you stay healthier and less likely to fall into negative lifestyle habits. Try meditation, yoga or another gentle exercise. Make time for a visit or call with a friend who always makes you laugh. Participate regularly in hobbies you enjoy. Write about your feelings in a daily journal. And if you need a little extra help, reach out to a therapist.
- Boost your sleep quality: Aim for at least seven hours a night and initiate healthy sleep practices. Avoid excessive and late-day caffeine consumption. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and avoid smartphones and other screens close to bedtime. If you’re waking often during the night or feeling excessively tired during the day, ask your doctor if you should be evaluated for sleep apnea.
- Get regular checkups: Remember to visit your doctor once a year, or if you ever have a concern, and get regular screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. If your doctor thinks you may be at risk for heart disease, they can refer you for additional screenings and help you with lifestyle changes – and sometimes medications – that can lower those risks.
Want to learn more? Visit the American Heart Association’s Guidelines Resource Center for information and resources on topics ranging from nutrition to stress management.
In Embark community we can help provide transportation to doctor appointments. Learn more here.