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Heart Health

Prevention is the Key to Heart Health

Group of people, mixed races, women and men, smilingHeart disease is still the No. 1 killer of all Americans, men and women.  But by following Life’s Simple 7 and working with your doctor to consider your family heart health history, you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.


Do not smoke. Quit if you do.

If you smoke . . . quit!  Smoking is the leading preventable cause of illnesses such as:

Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that damage your heart and blood vessels.  One of those chemicals, nicotine, overworks your heart by constricting blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Newer products, including electric or vapor nicotine, are believed to carry the same risks.  

The good news: when you quit smoking, in just one year your risk of heart attack and stroke drops.


Get plenty of exercise.

Exercise can be fun, and it is good for you.  Regular exercise can cut your risk of fatal heart disease by nearly a quarter. Getting 150 minutes of exercise – that is about 30 minutes, five times a week or three 75-minute workouts weekly if you prefer - is a good way to maintain heart health.  Exercise can help:


Eat heart-healthy foods.

Healthy eating does not necessarily mean cutting back or going on a diet. It means eating a lot of:

Healthy eating also includes:

Saturated fat and trans fat increase your risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is found in the foods many love to eat such as:

Although heart-healthy eating does not mean cutting out alcohol entirely, limit yourself to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and one drink per day for women.


Keep a healthy body weight.

We tend to gain weight with age, but more often weight gain is the result of consuming an excess number of calories and insufficient exercise.  Weight gain can lead to conditions that increase your chance of:

A good way to know if your weight is considered "healthy" is to calculate your body mass index – also called “BMI.”  BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with:

Health care providers sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to determine a person's excess body fat.  In general, men are considered overweight if their waist is greater than 40 inches.  Women are considered overweight if their waist is over 35 inches.

If you know your weight and height, you can compute your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight website.


Manage your blood pressure.

High blood pressure is considered a common "silent killer" because it often does not have any signs or symptoms. Some people may have high blood pressure but not even know it. That is why it is important to check your blood pressure regularly and to take steps to maintain normal blood pressure or lower your blood pressure if it reaches unsafe levels. In most people, a blood pressure of 120/80mm Hg is considered optimal.

You can make lifestyle changes to help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range:

In addition, if you already have high blood pressure:


Reduce your blood sugar.

Your blood sugar level could be higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.  If so, you may have a condition known as pre-diabetes.  About one of every 3 U.S. adults has pre-diabetes.  And most people with pre-diabetes are not aware of their condition.

Having pre-diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It also increases your risk for other serious health problems, like heart diseasestroke and kidney failure. 

Take the National Diabetes Prevention Program quiz to find out if you are at risk. Your doctor can do a simple blood test. If you do have pre-diabetes, research shows that doing just two things can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes:

If you already have diabetes:


Control your cholesterol.

An elevated cholesterol level in the blood is a well-recognized risk factor for:

A particular fat, called "low density lipoprotein" or "LDL" cholesterol, is also found in circulating blood.  LDL cholesterol is an especially powerful sign of cardiovascular risk. A level above 130mg/dL is considered high.

High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms, so you could have high levels and not know it. Only a health provider's check, using a simple blood test, will reveal it. 

Things that can raise your LDL cholesterol level include being:

But - you can help lower your cholesterol by:

To see how likely you are to develop heart disease, your doctor will look at information about you, including test results such as your:

Looking at all this information together makes it easier to understand and manage your risk for heart disease, including whether medications such as statins might help.

Heart health guidelines from the American Heart Association point out the need for more research on how to best treat people over 75 to lower their risk for heart disease.


Visit Your Health Care Provider.

One of the most important things you can do is schedule an annual checkup with your health care provider.  This will allow your doctor to pinpoint major risk factors you may have for cardiovascular disease, such as:


Know Your Family Heart Health History.

Knowledge is one of your strongest weapons against heart disease.  Learn as much as you can about healthy living.

And because diseases of the heart and blood vessels can run in families, knowing your family history can provide important information about your health risks. Talk to your family about their heart health history.  To learn how to create a heart health family tree, please visit Know Your Family Heart Health History.  

By talking to your doctor about your family heart health history, together you can look for ways to lower your risk of heart disease.


Hope Through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about heart disease. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:




For more information:

Go to the Heart Health health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Mar 20, 2014

Mabel Stearns Stonehill Endowed Chair and Professor of Internal Medicine
Director, NetWellness.org Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati