Heart disease is a major cause of death, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitability. While certain risk factors cannot be altered – such as family history, gender or age – there are many ways one can reduce the chances of developing heart disease. Making some lifestyle changes can help to minimize the risk, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Controlling conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure through medications and lifestyle modifications is also important. Additionally, getting regular check-ups from your healthcare provider and having cholesterol and other tests can help to identify any potential risk factors. Taking these steps can help to keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease.
It is important to take steps to boost your heart health in order to reduce your risk of heart disease. Here are seven tips to get you started:
1. Stop smoking or using tobacco
Chemicals in tobacco can damage the heart and blood vessels, so it is best to avoid all forms of smoke and tobacco. If you do smoke, quitting can start to reduce your risk of heart disease in as little as one day.
2. Get moving
Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of activity every day. This can include moderate aerobic exercise such as walking, vigorous aerobic activity such as running, and strength training. Even shorter periods of physical activity can help your heart health.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can help protect the heart, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Include lots of vegetables and fruits, beans or other legumes, lean meats and fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Limit your intake of salt, sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, saturated fat, and trans fat. Following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan or the Mediterranean diet
4. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight — especially around the middle of the body — increases the risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase the chances of developing heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
The body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight to determine whether a person is overweight or obese. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight and is generally associated with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much belly fat you have. The risk of heart disease is higher if the waist measurement is greater than:
- 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm) for men
- 35 inches (88.9 cm) for women
Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing weight by just 3% to 5% can help decrease certain fats in the blood (triglycerides), lower blood sugar (glucose) and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Losing even more helps lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.
5. Get good quality sleep
People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.
Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it’s easier to sleep.
If you feel like you’ve been getting enough sleep but you’re still tired throughout the day, ask your health care provider if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can increase your risk of heart disease. Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, stopping breathing for short times during sleep and waking up gasping for air. Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include losing weight if you’re overweight or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that keeps your airway open while you sleep.
6. Manage stress
Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health.
7. Get regular health screenings
It is important to get regular health screenings to monitor the health of your heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can cause long-term damage to your heart and blood vessels, but without testing for them, you won’t know whether or not you have these conditions.
Regular screenings can help you identify any potential issues and take the necessary steps to address them. For blood pressure, screenings should start in childhood and should be done at least once every two years starting at age 18. If you are between 18 and 39 and have risk factors for high blood pressure, it is recommended to get your blood pressure tested annually.
People age 40 and older should also get their blood pressure tested yearly. Cholesterol levels should be checked at least every four to six years starting at age 20. However, if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease, your health care provider may recommend earlier screening.
If you have risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your health care provider may recommend early screening. Otherwise, screening is recommended beginning at age 45, with retesting every three years.
Getting regular health screenings is essential for monitoring your heart health and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. Talk to your health care provider about which screenings are right for you.
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