Heart disease may be a leading cause of death in America, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your fate. Even if you lack the power to change some risk factors — such as family history, sex or age — there are some key heart disease prevention steps you can take to reduce your risk.

You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting the healthy lifestyle choices recommended by the Mayo Clinic. Start today! 

Don’t Smoke or Use Tobacco

Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Outside of the other harmful chemicals in cigarettes, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.

Women who both smoke and take birth control pills are at much greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those who do not smoke. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smokeless tobacco, low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke also can be risky. 

The good news, though, is that your risk of heart disease begins to lower soon after quitting. Your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. No matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

Exercise for about 30 Minutes Per Day

Getting regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. When you combine physical activity with maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater. Physical activity helps control your weight and  also reduces your chances of developing other conditions that put a strain on your heart, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

In general, you should exercise moderately almost daily. Walk at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes or find an exercise you enjoy. Swimming is great. Join a gym. Yoga also reduces stress, another benefit to a healthy heart. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends about 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. 

Don’t despair. Even shorter amounts of exercise than these recommendations offer heart benefits, so if you can’t meet those guidelines, KEEP AT IT. 

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet. A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Aim to eat beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish as part of a healthy diet. You should also avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease. 

Waist circumference can be a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:

  • Men are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
  • Women are generally overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Again, don’t despair.  A small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar (glucose), and reduce your risk of diabetes. 

Get Enough 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 seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep. But, if you’re constantly reaching for the snooze button and it’s a struggle to get out of bed, you need more sleep each night.

If you feel like you’ve been getting enough sleep, but you’re still tired throughout the day, ask your doctor if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, your throat muscles relax and block your airway intermittently during sleep. This may cause you to stop breathing temporarily.


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