Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the U.S., accounting for approximately 25% of all deaths. Fortunately, many of the factors that contribute to heart disease are within your control. You can lower your risk by following these five tips.
1. Eat a healthy diet.
The American Heart Association (AHA) offers a lot of guidance on how to build a healthy diet. Overall, you want to keep an appropriate balance between your caloric intake and exercise to avoid gaining unwanted weight. Within that broad guideline, the AHA provides several recommendations for types of food to include and types to limit.
A healthy diet emphasizes
- A variety of fruits and vegetables that are free of added sugar and salt
- Fiber-rich whole grains
- Low-fat dairy (1% fat or less)
- Nuts and legumes
- Skinless poultry
- Skinless fish (especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and herring)
- Lean cuts of meat (for those who choose to eat meat)
A healthy diet limits intake of saturated fat and trans fat. These fats have been found to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, creating an increased risk for heart disease. Foods high in saturated fat include red meat and other fatty meats as well as high-fat dairy products. Hydrogenated oils are notoriously high in trans fat. The AHA also advises limiting foods that are high in sodium or sugars and paying attention to portion sizes to avoid overeating.
2. Get regular exercise.
Regular exercise is an important part of keeping your heart strong and maintaining a healthy weight. For adults, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of these each week in addition to moderate to vigorous resistance or weight training twice per week to increase muscle strength. These are minimum targets, with the AHA noting that those who are active at least five hours per week gain additional benefits. Even light activity can be beneficial, and you can gradually increase intensity over time as you become more used to exercise.
To gauge whether the activity you’re doing is moderate or vigorous, pay attention to your heart rate. Moderate exercise brings your heart rate to around 50–70% of its maximum, while vigorous activity brings it to 70–85% of maximum. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, a 50-year-old person’s maximum heart rate would be around 170 (220 – 50 = 170). During moderate exercise, you should be able to feel your heart beating faster, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. Examples include walking, gardening, ballroom dancing, and leisurely biking.
3. Limit alcohol consumption.
The AHA recommends a maximum of one drink per day for women and two per day for men. (This is an actual daily limit and not an average, so you shouldn’t expect the same results from saving them up to have seven drinks over the weekend.)
4. Avoid tobacco.
Tobacco smoking increases the risk of heart disease in several ways. It can cause blood vessels to narrow, increase plaque buildup in the arteries, and lower HDL (“good” cholesterol).
5. Understand your risk.
In addition to taking these general steps to limit your heart disease risk, understanding what that risk really is can help you take any additional steps that may be necessary. A CT cardiac calcium test assesses the buildup of calcified plaque in the arteries to determine an individual’s risk of suffering a heart attack. While we can control many of our risk factors for heart disease, some of them are beyond our control. You may be at risk if
- You’re a male over 45
- You’re a female who is over 55 or no longer menstruating
- You have a family history of heart attacks
- Your cholesterol and/or blood pressure is high
- You have diabetes
- You are more than 20 pounds overweight
- You smoke tobacco or are in an environment where someone else does
- Your lifestyle is sedentary
If you think you may be at risk for heart disease, consider discussing the potential benefits of CT cardiac calcium scoring with your doctor. For more information about how to keep your heart (and the rest of your body) healthy, subscribe to our blog!
The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations. Published August 17, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2020.
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults. Updated April 18, 2018. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids. Updated March 23, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Heart Disease and Stroke. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/heart_disease/index.htm. Updated February 8, 2018. Accessed Feb 21, 2020.
Heart Disease Facts. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Published December 2, 2019. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates. Updated January 4, 2015. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/meat-poultry-and-fish-picking-healthy-proteins. Updated March 26, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Portion Size Versus Serving Size. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/portion-size-versus-serving-size. Updated March 20, 2015. Accessed February 21, 2020.
The Skinny on Fats. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia/the-skinny-on-fats. Updated April 30, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2020.
Trans Fats. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat. Updated March 23, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2020.