Take Action to Beat Heart Disease
If you’re at risk for heart disease, there's good news. Many people can take steps
to greatly reduce their chances of developing it. Even if you already have atherosclerosis
or have had a heart attack, there’s a lot you can do to prevent future heart problems.
Surgeries and procedures like cardiac catheterization, bypass surgery, angiography,
and stents, plus cholesterol-lowering medicines, are helping many people with heart
disease live longer. Even so, heart disease is still the most common cause of death
in the U.S. You can help make sure you don’t become a statistic by taking steps to
lower your risk.
Some risk factors are beyond your control. For instance, people who are assigned male
at birth have a higher risk. Your family history may also be a factor. And your risk
increases with age.
Other major risk factors can be changed. You can help lower your risk of developing
heart disease by making positive lifestyle changes. Even if you already have heart
disease, doing these things can help you prevent a future heart attack:
Stop smoking. Smokers are up to 4 times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers.
Control high blood pressure. If you have blood pressure higher than recommended, work with your healthcare provider
to lower it.
Control high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, particularly if you have high LDL ("bad") cholesterol,
work with your healthcare provider to lower it. Even a 10% reduction in your total
cholesterol may lower your risk for heart disease.
Lose extra weight. Your heart and blood vessels are under constant stress to pump blood to all your
body tissues. If you are obese, you increase the workload on the heart and blood vessels.
Losing weight reduces the strain on your heart and the wear and tear on your body.
Get physically active (with your healthcare provider's approval). Being inactive can raise your risk. Inactivity
is just as dangerous as smoking, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Increasing
physical activity increases the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in your body, which
helps prevent disease of your arteries.
Control diabetes. If you have diabetes, keep control of your blood sugar level. About two-thirds of
people with this condition die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes. High blood
sugar is very damaging to blood vessels anywhere in the body. Ongoing high blood sugar
scars the vessels and can cause heart attacks, strokes, and narrowing of arteries
to major muscles and organs such as the heart and brain.
Limit alcohol use. Reduce alcohol consumption. For men, this means no more than 2 drinks per day. For
women, this means no more than 1 drink per day.
Manage stress. Positive mental health is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Chronic stress
can lead to high blood pressure and other heart problems.
Don't use recreational drugs. This includes cocaine and amphetamines.
You can tackle several risk factors at once by doing just 3 things: eating healthier
foods, exercising regularly, and taking your medicines as directed.
Diet and health
Consider these foods, which are high in nutrition:
Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach. These vegetables contain vitamins C and K, and folate. These nutrients may lower
your risk for heart disease and some cancers.
Beans and other legumes. They’re high in protein and a good source of fiber. Both are good for your heart,
help control cholesterol, and keep blood sugar levels from going too high or too low.
Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. They contain antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins.
Pomegranates. Pomegranate juice may help lower high cholesterol in people with diabetes.
Walnuts. These nuts are high in fat, but it's not the saturated kind. Walnuts contain omega-3
fatty acids. Walnuts may help reduce cholesterol.
Flaxseeds. Also high in unsaturated fat, these are another good source of alpha-linolenic acid.
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid that may reduce cardiovascular risk.
If you have allergies, or dislike these high-nutrient food examples, these might not
be the foods for you. There are other options. Talk with a dietitian about healthy
food options that can help you stay heart healthy and get the nutritional benefits
your body needs.
Power of exercise
Exercise can cut your risk for heart disease by helping you lose weight and control
your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels. Exercise for at least 30 to
40 minutes, 4 to 5 days a week. Brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling are
all great activities. Choose a type of exercise that is moderate to vigorous intensity
to get the benefits for your heart and body. Talk with your healthcare provider before
starting to exercise, especially if you already have heart disease.
Feeling unmotivated? Keep this in mind: If you weigh 200 pounds, you could lose 14
pounds in a year by adding a brisk 1-1/2-mile walk to your daily routine and eating
wisely. Not very athletic? Pick an activity that doesn’t require new skills. Hate
exercising alone? Ask a friend to join you.
Take your medicine
Following a healthier lifestyle may be enough to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol,
or even diabetes in check. If it isn’t doing the trick, your healthcare provider may
recommend prescription medicines.
Read the label on your medicine. And read any information provided by your pharmacy
about your prescription. If you’re taking more than one medicine, consider filling
all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This may help prevent possibly dangerous
interactions. Let your healthcare provider know about any side effects. Never stop
taking medicine on your own.