Prevention is the Key to Heart Health
Heart 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.
- Get Plenty of Exercise.
- Eat Heart-Healthy Foods.
- Keep a Healthy Body Weight.
- Manage Your Blood Pressure.
- Reduce your Blood Sugar.
- Control Your Cholesterol.
- Visit Your Healtcare Provider.
- Know Your Family Heart Health History.
If you smoke . . . quit! Smoking is the leading preventable cause of illnesses such as:
- heart disease
- lung cancer
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.
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:
- strengthen your heart so it can pump more blood and oxygen into your body with less effort
- build endurance
- control blood pressure
- control weight gain
- reduce cholesterol levels
- lower your risk of developing diabetes.
Healthy eating does not necessarily mean cutting back or going on a diet. It means eating a lot of:
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy products
- low sodium foods.
Healthy eating also includes:
- avoiding processed and fried foods
- reducing your weekly intake of sweetened drinks to less than 36 ounces
- limiting your intake of certain fats.
- common fast food choices.
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.
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:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
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:
- higher blood fats
- higher blood pressure
- increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
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.
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:
- Reduce your intake of salt.
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Do not smoke.
Watch your alcohol intake.
- No more than two drinks per day for men.
- No more than one drink per day for women.
In addition, if you already have high blood pressure:
Take prescribed medicines each day and follow the directions on the bottle.
- If your blood pressure is still not under control or if you have side effects, talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about possibly changing your medicine.
- Measure and write down your blood pressure readings between doctor’s visits. You can measure your blood pressure:
- at home
- at a grocery store
- at the pharmacy
- at a local fire station
- Keep your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care provider informed of your blood pressure readings that you take at home.
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.
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:
- Lose 5% to 7% of your body weight. That would be 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person; and
- Get at least 150 minutes each week of at least moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking. That is just 30 minutes a day on 5 days a week.
If you already have diabetes:
- Keep your blood glucose as close to normal as possible.
Have an A1C blood test and talk with your doctor about what the right level is for you.
The A1C measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months. It is different from the blood sugar checks you do each day. You need to know your blood sugar levels over time. You do not want those numbers to get too high. High levels of blood sugar can hurt your:
- blood vessels
Follow your diabetes program:
- medicines, such as insulin or pills.
- The A1C measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months. It is different from the blood sugar checks you do each day. You need to know your blood sugar levels over time. You do not want those numbers to get too high. High levels of blood sugar can hurt your:
An elevated cholesterol level in the blood is a well-recognized risk factor for:
cardiovascular disease, including:
- heart attack
- and narrowing of blood vessels in the legs – known as “peripheral vascular disease.”
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:
- losing weight
- consuming foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
To see how likely you are to develop heart disease, your doctor will look at information about you, including test results such as your:
- LDL cholesterol level
- HDL cholesterol level
- blood pressure.
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.
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:
- elevated cholesterol
- elevated blood pressure
- excess weight
- a family history of premature heart or vascular disease and diabetes.
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:
- Heart Disease Studies (ClinicalTrials.gov)
- ClinicalTrials.gov Explained
- ResearchMatch Explained
- NetWellness Research Center
- Research Studies for Minorities
- Taking Part in Research: You Can Be Part of the Answer – Video
- Four Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life
- Life’s Simple 7 (AHA)
- Prevent Diabetes
- Understanding the New Prevention Guidelines (AHA)
For more information:
Go to the Heart Health health topic.