If you're at risk for heart disease, there's a lot you can do to prevent future heart problems.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
While some risk factors are beyond your control – you can't change your gender (men have a higher risk), your family history, or your age (risk increases with age) – you can reduce your chances of becoming a statistic through lifestyle changes such as exercise and eating healthier foods.
Start off the new year right by making these changes:
- Stop smoking. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers, the AHA says.
- Control high blood pressure. If you have blood pressure higher than recommended, work with your health care provider to lower it.
- Control high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, particularly if you have high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, work with your provider to lower it. Even a 10 percent reduction in your total cholesterol may decrease your risk for heart disease.
- Lose extra weight.
- Get physically active, with your doctor's approval. Being inactive can raise your risk. That makes it just as dangerous as smoking, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
- Control diabetes. If you have diabetes, take your medications and follow your doctor's orders. About two-thirds of people with this condition die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes.
- Limit alcohol use and reduce stress.
- Watch what you eat. Limit foods that are high in calories and saturated fat because they can lead to gain, as well as high cholesterol levels.
Food and your health
What you eat has a big effect on your overall health. Consider adding these foods, which are high in nutrition:
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as 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, which is good for your heart.
- 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, which 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.
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, the AHA says. Aim for an average of at least 40 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise three or four times a week. Brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling all qualify. But, talk with your doctor 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 sensibly. Not very athletic? Pick an activity that doesn't require new skills. Hate exercising alone? Ask a friend to join you.