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Heart disease causes problems with your heart and blood vessels, and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If you’re at high risk for heart disease, it’s essential to take steps to keep your heart healthy. These simple heart disease prevention strategies are proven to keep your heart healthy — and there’s no better time to start working on them than today.

1. Establish a Relationship With Your Doctor

Everyone should choose a primary care doctor who can serve as a lifelong partner and health advisor. Heart disease prevention strategies change as you age. Your primary care doctor knows your history, risks, and, challenges, and can provide personalized recommendations to keep your heart healthy.

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2. Schedule an Annual Wellness Exam

It’s essential to meet with your primary care doctor at least once a year for a wellness exam. You’ll get a complete physical examination, with heart screening tests based on your risk factors. These may include:

  • A blood pressure check.
  • Blood tests to check cholesterol and glucose levels.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of your heart.

Based on your test results and risk factors, you may need medicine to help manage your cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar. It’s essential to take these as directed. They’re an important part of heart disease prevention.

3. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

Your diet is one of the most important controllable risk factors for heart disease. That means the foods you eat most frequently can either raise or lower your risk. A heart-healthy diet includes ample amounts of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, plus healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

Changing your diet to incorporate more of these foods is challenging. Your primary care doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian to help make it easier.

4. Be Physically Active

Regular exercise strengthens your heart and blood vessels. Adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week, but even a little bit helps. Remember that little activities like taking the stairs instead of an elevator and going on short walks can add up over time. Also, try to include two to three days of strength training exercises each week.

While keeping COVID-19 safety guidelines in mind, like wearing a mask and social distancing, you can work out at a gym, or hike, walk, or bike on your own. You can also mow your lawn (with a walk-behind mower), work in the garden, or play tag with the kids. Anything that gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat counts as exercise.

Ask your doctor which types of physical activity are safe and suitable choices for you. He or she can recommend programs and group classes to get you started. Working out with a friend or neighbor can make it easier to stay motivated.

5. If You Smoke, Get Help to Quit

It’s hard to quit smoking, but it’s the most important thing you can do to protect your heart. Cigarette smoke damages your heart and blood vessels. It can also raise your blood pressure, cause an irregular heartbeat, and increase plaque build-up in your arteries.

Smoking causes one in every four heart disease deaths, so it’s essential to talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Your doctor can recommend tools like nicotine replacement therapy and UPMC’s group or individual support programs to help you succeed.

6. Go Easy With Alcohol

Although some studies have suggested a benefit to red wine, other studies question if any amount of alcohol consumption is safe. Alcohol raises your blood pressure, adds extra calories, and can interact with some medicines.

The American Heart Association recommends that men have no more than two drinks a day; women should stick to one. And keep in mind that one drink is 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled (hard) alcoholic beverages, like liquor.

7. Manage Your Stress

Everyone experiences stress, but we don’t all react to it in the same way. For many people, chronic stress raises blood pressure and the level of stress hormones like cortisol. It also interferes with sleep and healthy eating.

You can’t eliminate stress. But with the help of mind-body therapies like meditation, you can manage it. Your primary care doctor works with specialists who can help and can also prescribe medicine if it’s appropriate.

These simple strategies are your first line of defense when it comes to heart disease prevention. Work with your doctor to implement them — the more you do, the healthier you’ll be.

Sources

How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

Smoking and Heart Disease and Stroke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/heart-disease-stroke.html

Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.