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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, procedures, and medicines like cardiac catheterization, bypass surgery, angiography, stents, and 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., according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You can help make sure you don’t become a statistic by taking steps to lower your risk.

Risk factors

Some risk factors are beyond your control. You can't change your gender (males have a higher risk), your family history, or your age (risk increases with age).

Other major risk factors can be changed. You can help lower your risk for 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 2 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 scar 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 and manage stress.

You can tackle several risk factors at once by doing just 3 things: eating healthier foods, exercising, and taking your medicines as directed.

Family making a salad together. Mom is serving the daughter and the father is stealing a vegetable from the bowl

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.