Heart disease takes more lives of men and women than any other disease in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But there's some good news. There are a few steps that you can take to lower your risk for heart disease. These simple steps also happen to be healthy practices for everyone — not just people who are worried about heart disease.
Heart disease is a broad term for a host of conditions that often involve narrowed or blocked arteries and veins. Blockages and other blood vessel problems can occur over time as a result of high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Untreated heart disease can lead to a heart attack or stroke in some patients.
That's why now is as good a time as any to start taking steps to a healthier heart. On the road to heart health, however, keep in mind that every person is different. That's why you should always talk to your doctor before any major changes to your diet, physical activity levels or medication regimen.
For those who want to live heart-healthy, the following steps are a good place to start.
Be Intentional About Food
Eating healthy meals can lower the risk for heart disease and its complications. Foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, that are also high in fiber, can lower the risk for high cholesterol, according to the CDC. This can, in turn, lower the risk for heart disease. Think vegetables, fruits, legumes and lean meats.
Limiting salt in your diet may lower your risk for high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Avoiding sugar can reduce diabetes risk and help you maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is also a risk factor for heart disease.
Physical activity helps patients live longer with better quality of life, according to the University of California, Los Angeles. People who exercise for at least 30 minutes five times a week may reduce their risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Frequent, moderate exercise has also been tied to reduced blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Manage Medical Conditions
Controlling cholesterol can slow the plaque buildup in arteries that is responsible for the blockages that can lead to heart attack and stroke. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have family history of high cholesterol, consult your health care provider about a simple diagnostic blood test, as medication can help manage cholesterol.
High blood pressure, another major risk for heart disease, often has no symptoms. Patients should be tested for high blood pressure every two years. Lifestyle changes, less sodium and medication can all help lower blood pressure to a healthy level.
If you are taking medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctors’ instructions carefully, always ask questions, and never stop taking your medication without consulting a doctor or pharmacist.
Smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease. It's also been tied to a host of other health problems, including high blood pressure and several types of cancer. If you smoke, speak to a doctor or pharmacist about ways to quit.
Alcohol can also raise blood pressure, which can boost heart disease risk. That means men should have no more than two drinks per day, according to the CDC. Women should have no more than one.