Take Action to Beat Heart Disease

If you're at risk for heart disease, we have good news for you. Many people can take steps to greatly reduce their chances of developing it. Even if you already have atherosclerosis or have had a heart attack, there's a lot you can do to prevent future heart problems.

Surgeries, procedures, and medications like cardiac catheterization, bypass operations, angiography, stents, and statins are helping many people with heart disease live longer. Even so, heart disease is still the most common cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You can help make sure you don't become a statistic by taking steps to lower your risk.

Risk factors

Some risk factors are beyond your control: You can't change your gender (males have a higher risk), your family history, or your age (risk increases with age).

Other major risk factors can be changed. You can help lower your risk for developing heart disease by making positive lifestyle changes. Even if you already have heart disease, doing these things can help you prevent a future heart attack:

  • Stop smoking. Smokers are 2 to 4 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 health care provider to lower it. Even a 10% reduction in your total cholesterol may lower your risk for heart disease.

  • Lose extra weight.

  • Get physically active, with your doctor's approval. Being inactive can raise your risk. Inactivity is just as dangerous as smoking, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

  • Control diabetes. If you have diabetes, keep control. About two-thirds of people with this condition die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes.

  • Limit alcohol use and stress.

You can tackle several risk factors at once by doing just 3 things: eating healthier foods, exercising, and taking your medications as instructed.

Family making a salad together. Mom is serving the daughter and the father is stealing a vegetable from the bowl

Diet and health

Consider these foods, which are high in nutrition:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like 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. Both are 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. Walnuts 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. Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling are all great activities. 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 wisely. Not very athletic? Pick an activity that doesn't require new skills. Hate exercising alone? Ask a friend to join you.

Take your medication

Following a healthier lifestyle may be enough to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, or even diabetes in check. If it isn't doing the trick, your health care provider may recommend prescription medication, the AHA says. 

Read the label on your medication. And read any information provided by your pharmacy regarding your prescription. If you're taking more than 1 medication, consider filling all your prescriptions at 1 pharmacy. This may help you prevent possibly dangerous interactions. Let your health care provider know about any side effects. Never stop taking medicine on your own.