Some risk factors for heart disease — such as advancing age, or a family history — are beyond your control. Others are completely up to you.
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Managing these controllable risk factors can go a long way toward reducing your risk of developing heart disease.
“Even if you have the perfect genetic history, with no heart disease, it is still very important to live a heart-healthy lifestyle,” says cardiologist Haitham Ahmed, MD.
So, how to live this heart-healthy lifestyle? Here are five habits to adopt.
1. Eat a diet that is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Take the time to read food labels, which will help you understand what foods you should avoid or eat in small quantities.
Saturated fat are found in prepared foods and animal products, including meats, milk, butter and eggs.
Limit your red meat intake, choose lean cuts of chicken and turkey, and eat more soy protein and fish, including salmon, tuna and sardines, which are high in cholesterol lowering omega-3 fatty acids, Dr. Ahmed says.
In prepared foods, avoid products made with trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
One great way to reduce your cholesterol is to increase your fiber intake with more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain foods. Try to consume 25 grams to 35 grams of fiber each day.
Keep an eye on sodium too. Sodium is found in many foods like processed meats, eggs and bread. Make a conscious effort to consume only 2 grams or less — that’s one-half teaspoon — of sodium per day.
2. Do 30 minutes of daily exercise that increases your heart rate.
Make exercise a part of your daily routine. Find an activity that fits your lifestyle and take the time to do it.
The good news is that the 30 minutes does not have to be consecutive, Dr. Ahmed says. You can do three 10-minute spurts (or two 15-minute spurts) of activity that get your heart rate up. For example, you might do short and brisk walks two to three times a day.
3. If you smoke, stop.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Smokers have about a 70 percent higher death rate from coronary artery disease than do nonsmokers, Dr. Ahmed says.
Amazing fact: When you quit, your heart will begin to rejuvenate and repair itself.
Also, do your best to avoid secondhand smoke.
4. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at normal levels.
If you do all three of the above, your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will probably be in a healthy range.
A good blood pressure is around 120/80 mm Hg, and an ideal cholesterol level depends on your other risk factors, Dr. Ahmed says.
To keep these numbers in check, be sure to have these indicators measured regularly and take the medications that your doctor prescribes.
5. Keep your stress levels in check.
To keep your ticker healthy, it’s important to assess your stress level every so often, Dr. Ahmed says. Don’t ignore it when you’re feeling stressed for more than a day.
There are many ways to reduce stress. You can listen to music, take a walk with a friend or family member or meditate. Whatever you do, find what works for you.
Laughter also eases blood flow and reduces stress, so try bringing some levity and humor into your daily life.
Another way to keep stress in check for the long-term is to have a good network of friends with whom you can talk.
Finally, be sure to separate your family time from work time. This can do wonders.