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Understanding ways to prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., is essential to living a long, healthy life. And this goes for people of all ages, as heart disease can begin early on in life and continue to progress as we get older.
The primary cause of heart disease is coronary artery disease, or when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart and throughout the body. Over time, plaque buildup causes the arteries to narrow over time, a process called atherosclerosis.
While genetics can play a role in your heart disease risk, many risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol can be controlled through a healthy lifestyle. Here are some key ways you can begin boosting your heart health.
Heart Disease Prevention Strategies
Regularly exercising is good for the heart, as it helps you maintain a healthy weight and keep your blood pressure under control. In fact, being physically inactive increases your heart disease and stroke risk by 50 percent. Moreover, exercising is good for many other parts of your life, such as coping with mild depression and anxiety. We recommend exercising at least 30 minutes a day, four days a week. If you feel as though you don’t have time, try using a step counter and aim to take around 10,000 steps per day.
2. Don't Smoke
Smoking is a primary heart disease risk factor, as it causes about one of every four deaths from cardiovascular disease. When you smoke, it can cause damage over time to the lining of the blood vessels around the heart, which can lead to plaque buildup and, in many cases, heart attacks and strokes. This applies not only to cigarettes but also vaping, as the juice used in these devices often contains chemicals that also can increase your heart disease risk.
Quitting smoking can be difficult. Make sure to speak with your doctor if you’ve previously struggled to quit, as there are certain services, such as smoking cessation programs, that can help.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet can help people keep their high blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, which reduces heart disease risk. We typically recommend that patients follow the Mediterranean diet, which avoids processed foods and prioritizes:
- Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas
- Whole grains
Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of heart disease because, when your body has trouble handling sugars, it inflames your blood vessels and then leads to problems with the kidneys, triggering a cascade of vascular issues. Eating a healthy diet that’s low in sugar significantly reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Regular Checkups With a Doctor
Your age, existing conditions, and risk factors help dictate how often you should see your primary care doctor. For someone who’s young and healthy, checking in once a year probably is sufficient. However, if you have high blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels, or past heart conditions, checking in two times or more a year likely is necessary. Visits with your doctor help you stay on top of your risk factors and ensures you are continuously receiving feedback on your overall health.
It’s important to remember that the information above is general and may not apply to everyone. Make sure to speak to your doctor about what works best for you. Depending on your specific situation, you may need to make more or different lifestyle changes than the ones we’ve discussed here.