Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia (according to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC). And the sad part is, many of them are unnecessary.  Many are preventable. So, what can you do to prevent heart disease? First, let’s understand more about what heart disease is and what causes it.

What is Heart Disease

Senior man with chest pain suffering from heart attack during jogging

Heart disease doesn’t just refer to one type of disease. It is an umbrella term for a variety of heart conditions. Types of heart disease include

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD): the coronary arteries are damaged or diseased, usually because of plaque, and the heart does not receive enough oxygen
  • Atherosclerosis: hardened arteries
  • Congenital heart disease: heart defects from birth, including
  • Arrhythmia: irregular heartbeats that occur because the electrical impulses that control your heart have been interrupted
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: heart chambers are dilated because of muscle weakness, the heart cannot function properly
  • Myocardial infarction or Heart Attack: blood flow is blocked and the heart muscle is damaged from lack of oxygen and nutrients
  • Heart failure: the heart cannot pump blood properly

This is not a conclusive list of heart disease, but these are among the main types of heart disease. So, what factors lead to heart disease, and what can you do to prevent it?

Risk Factors of Heart Disease

  • Age: Your risk of heart disease increases as you age
  • Family History: If a parent or close relative has experienced heart disease, your risk increases
  • Gender: Risk factors for heart disease affect men and women differently. Women tend to have a lower risk for heart disease until they reach menopause. However, diabetes increases risk for heart disease in women more than men.
  • Race or ethnicity: Some races or ethnicity are at higher risk for heart disease. African Americans are at an increased risk of heart disease. Hispanic Americans are less likely than average to experience it. East Asians are at lower risk than South Asians.

Other health conditions can contribute to heart disease, such as

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol

Work with your doctor if you have any of the conditions or physical traits listed above. He or she can help you make a plant to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Prevent Heart Disease

There is a lot you can do to protect your cardiovascular health. These guidelines will not only reduce your risk of heart disease but improve your quality of life. Side effects include more energy, improved mood, less fatigue, and peace of mind.

Monitor Your Blood Pressure

Nurse checking the blood pressure

Getting your blood pressure checked regularly is hugely important for your heart health. For one, high blood pressure (also called hypertension) doesn’t have many symptoms. Most people don’t even know that they have high blood pressure.

You can get your blood pressure monitored at your doctor’s office during your regular checkup or learn how to monitor it yourself at home.

Blood pressure is measured as one number over the other. The top number is systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats) and the bottom is diastolic (blood pressure when your heart rests).

The American Heart Association defines low, normal, and high blood pressure as follows:

Blood Pressure Category Systolic Diastolic
Normal Below 120 Below 80
Elevated 120 – 129 Below 80
High (stage 1 hypertension) 130 – 139 80 – 90
High (stage 2 hypertension) 140 and above 90 and above
Hypertensive Crisis* 180 and above 120 and above

*If you experience a Hypertensive Crisis, seek immediate medical help

You can lower your blood pressure by following the other points on this guide. After making these lifestyle changes (including a healthy diet, exercise, lowering cholesterol, and quitting smoking) other options such as supplements and medications may be available.

Some supplements increase Nitric Oxide (NO) in your blood. This helps your blood vessels relax and open, which facilitates blood flow and can lower blood pressure. Some supplements include beetroot powder, l-arginine, and l-citrulline.

If lifestyle changes or supplements fail, talk with your doctor about blood pressure medication.

Manage Your Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels

Your cholesterol is another thing you need to be checking regularly. This can be done with your doctor’s help. Cholesterol is a lipoprotein (a fat protein) that can build up in your blood vessels—increasing your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

There are two types of cholesterol. The first is low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol. This is known as the “bad” cholesterol. You get it from consuming trans fats and saturated fats.

Saturated fats include red meat, full-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils. Trans fat is found in in deep-fried foods, bakery products, packages snack foods, and margarine. Avoid foods that have “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the label. This means they have trans fat.

Thankfully, the second cholesterol is friendlier. High-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol comes from healthy fats. These are found in fatty fish like salmon, legumes, nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils. You can also supplement with omega-3 fatty acids. These do not build up in your blood and even help lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Triglycerides are like LDL cholesterol. They are fats that come from unused calories that build up in your blood. You can keep your triglyceride levels low by avoiding trans and saturated fats, limiting sugars and carbs, increasing fiber, and following other guidelines in this article.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Foods providing low cholesterol dietAs you reduce LDL cholesterol and eat HDL cholesterol foods, you will be well on your way to a healthier heart.

If you are worried about blood pressure, you could consider the DASH diet. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and focuses on reducing sodium and including nutrients that lower blood pressure like potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Other heart-healthy diets might include the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet, which combines the DASH and Mediterranean diet.

Whether you follow a prescribed diet or not, eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit meat (especially red meat), and focus on getting your protein from beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish.

Limit salt and sugars. Limiting salt will help you lower your blood pressure. Too much sugar in your blood can damage your blood vessels and contribute to weight gain.

By focusing on these proven health standards, you can be assured that you are decreasing your risk for heart disease and other health complications. You might also notice that you feel better, you don’t crave sweats or junk food as much, and you can drop any excess weight.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

By following the nutritional guidelines outlined above, you will be prepared to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Being overweight can increase your risk of heart disease and other conditions that lead to heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Learning your body mass index (BMI) can help you understand if you are at a healthy weight. The BMI takes your height and weight into account to determine your percentage of body fat.

Exercise Regularly

Young woman running on a treadmill in health club

Staying active can lower your blood pressure, help you maintain your weight, and lower your risk of diabetes. It will strengthen your heart and improve your circulation.

Make a goal be physically active for 30 minutes almost every day. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. Or a combination of moderate and vigorous. Don’t fret if you can’t quite make that much or do vigorous activity. Do what you can – everything counts. Even chores like cleaning your house, gardening, or walking the dog can contribute to your heart’s health.

Manage Diabetes

Diabetes can double your risk of diabetic heart disease. High blood sugar levels damage blood vessels over time. It also damages nerves hat control your heart and blood vessels. Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes.

Do Not Smoke or Use Tobacco

Smoking can raise your blood pressure. Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke can replace oxygen in your blood. This makes your heart work harder to supply your body with oxygen. This can lead to high blood pressure. Tobacco also contributes to the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.

If you smoke now, you can quit. If you do not smoke, do not start. After quitting, your risk of heart disease immediately begins to decrease.

Limit Alcohol

Drinking whiskey at nightExcessive alcohol can raise your blood pressure and contributes to weight gain. These are both factors that can lead to heart disease. To avoid heart disease, limit your alcohol intake. The CDC recommends that men have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women no more than one. Doing so will lower your heart disease risk.

Manage Stress

Continual stress can raise your blood pressure and lead to other bad habits (like over-eating, sleeping too much or too little, or heavy drinking) that contribute to heart disease. Extreme stress can trigger a heart attack. You can manage your stress in many ways, including meditation, yoga, deep breathing, exercise, listening to music, talking with a person you trust, or doing an enjoyable activity. Factor in time to rest, relax, and enjoy life.

Get Quality Sleep

A man sleeping on a bed

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our health, and often the most overlooked. Sleep deprivation can increase risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and depression.

Adults usually need 7 – 9 hours of sleep. If you are getting this amount of sleep but are still tired, drowsy, or fatigued, talk with your doctor. Also speak with your doctor if you snore loudly or gasp for air during sleep. These could be sings of sleep apnea. Treatments for sleep apnea can include losing weight or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device to keep your airway open.

Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Before bed, limit screen time and do something relaxing.

The Bottom Line

Heart disease comes in many forms and has just as many contributing factors. Some of these are inherited or physical conditions. But many are lifestyle factors that we have control over. Following these guidelines will help you lower your risk for heart disease and improve your well-being. And who doesn’t want that?


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