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Making Changes to Prevent Heart Disease

Your heart is a vital organ that keeps your body functioning. But many people don't treat it that way. They may not realize that their daily habits and lifestyle can overwork and damage their hearts. Take better care of your heart and yourself this summer by making these key lifestyle changes.

Get smoke-free.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Nicotine causes blood vessels to tighten and narrow. This makes it hard for blood to reach your heart muscle and temporarily raises blood pressure. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke lessens the amount of oxygen that gets to the heart. That's why smokers have twice the risk for heart attacks compared with nonsmokers.

Eat heart-friendly foods.

Eating fatty foods plays a part in the buildup of fat in your arteries. This can lead to blocked arteries of your heart and increases the risk for a heart attack.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • A wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which contain dietary fiber.
  • Healthy sources of protein, such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed.
  • Cooking oils made with unsaturated fats, such as canola, avocado, grapeseed, corn and olive oils.
  • Minimally processed foods.
  • Minimized intake of added sugars.
  • Foods prepared with little or no salt.
  • Limited or preferably no alcohol intake.

Set exercise goals.

Exercise gets your heart pumping. This helps your body use oxygen better and makes your heart stronger. It can also decrease your blood pressure and the amount of fat in your blood. Start your exercise program slowly, especially if you haven't been active for a while. Start with short sessions, such as 10 minute walks. Gradually increase the length of your workouts to at least 3040 minutes, four to five days a week. Experts advise getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week for substantial health benefits.

Watch your blood pressure.

Make sure your blood pressure is in the healthy range or under control. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure is the force against the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. The harder your heart works, the greater your risk for having a heart attack. Making smart lifestyle choices, such as eating a diet low in sodium, exercising regularly, staying away from tobacco, reducing stress, and limiting alcohol will decrease your risk of getting high blood pressure.

Watch your weight.

The AHA considers being overweight or obese a major risk factor for heart disease. If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease your risk. Reaching or maintaining an ideal weight also helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When your weight is in the ideal range, your body works more efficiently. And, you are less likely to develop conditions like diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, certain cancers and sleep apnea.

Reduce stress.

Continuous high stress has been consistently linked to health problems. These include an increased risk for heart disease and cardiac death or death from heart disease. Anger is tightly linked with risk for cardiac death. Common ways of dealing with stress, such as overeating and smoking, can further harm your heart. Try to keep your stress low by exercising, sharing your concerns with friends and family, and making some quiet time for yourself each day.

Maintain a healthy cholesterol level.

Having high cholesterol levels can begin early in life and continue throughout your lifetime. This can increase your lifetime risk of developing conditions such as a heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for these conditions. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque and causes inflammation. The plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. This narrows the opening for blood flow. Over time, the heart and brain may not get enough oxygen. This can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke. If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your healthcare provider will help you with steps to take to lower your levels.

Take the next steps.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Knowing your risk profile will enable you to take control of your health and provide you with an important defense against cardiovascular disease. Start your path to better heart health today by taking our free heart health risk assessment.

The AHA recommends screening regularly for your risk for heart disease starting at age 20. If you’ve delayed your regular screening for heart disease due to the pandemic, now is the time to schedule that appointment. If you need a primary care provider, visit, or if you are an established patient, make your appointment today.


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