As the cause of approximately one in every five deaths in the United States, it’s never too early to implement preventive measures for heart disease in your everyday life (NCCDPHP, 2022). According to the American Heart Association (2019), 80% of cardiovascular disease cases are completely preventable, meaning a bit of mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to avoiding future issues.
February is American Heart Month, a time when people can focus on their cardiovascular health. The most effective changes are those that you can easily maintain without feeling overwhelmed. Here are six simple steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease:
Eat Food Your Body Loves
Eating a healthy and diverse diet can help your body thrive and prevent heart-related problems long-term. Studies have shown that the most heart-healthy diets consist of fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats and oils (HSPH, n.d.). It’s also important to be mindful of your intake of sodium, sugar, red meat, and trans and saturated fats, as these can have a negative impact on heart health when consumed in excess (NCCDPHP, 2020).
Chiuve et al. (2012) found that individuals who followed heart-healthy diets had a 31% lower risk of heart disease than those who did not, as well as a 33% lower risk of diabetes and 20% lower risk of stroke.
Move Your Body
Exercising regularly helps lower your risk of heart disease in two ways: physical activity gets your heart pumping and maintaining a healthy weight puts less stress on your heart and blood vessels. Research shows that individuals who gain excess weight in adulthood are three times more likely to develop heart disease than those who gain only a few pounds or none at all (HSPH, n.d.). Simply walking for 30 minutes a day can do wonders for your physical and mental health.
Get Enough Sleep
Both too little and too much sleep can lead to an increase in heart disease risk. Beyond acting as a preventive measure for heart disease, creating healthy sleep habits also has a range of other beneficial impacts on your health. Avoiding the use of electronics at least one hour before bed, meditating, stretching, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and evening are all great ways to improve your sleep (HSPH, n.d.).
Assess Your Risk
Understanding your risk of heart disease allows you to create a more personal prevention strategy. Your physician is the best resource for determining your current risk level as they can perform bloodwork and provide insights into your family medical history. The American Heart Association also has a free Check. Change. Control. Calculator, which is a great tool for basic risk screening (https://ccccalculator.ccctracker.com/).
Use Heart-Healthy Herbs and Spices
In addition to eating healthy, safely adding heart-healthy herbs and spices into your diet can improve your nutritional intake throughout the day. Some great examples are garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric with black pepper (Cleveland HeartLab, 2019). Try incorporating these into your meals or get creative by making infused honey or tea blends. It’s important to do research, listen to your body, and consult with your physician when taking new herbs.
Avoid Tobacco Products
Numerous studies have linked regular tobacco use with an increased risk of heart disease. By avoiding tobacco products, or quitting if you’re a current user, you can lower your risk of heart disease and many other health problems as well (HSPH, n.d.). Speak with your doctor if you’re interested in quitting tobacco and aren’t sure where to start.
With heart disease having impacted millions of Americans, taking early and consistent action is the best tool for prevention. While it can be overwhelming, try beginning with just one of these changes and implementing more as you become more comfortable. One change is better than no change at all and will help keep your heart happy and healthy for years to come.
American Heart Association. (2019). 8 Things You Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease and
Stroke. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/prevent-heart-disease-and-stroke
Chiuve, S.E., Fung, T.T., Rimm, E.B., et al. (2012). Alternative dietary indices both strongly
predict risk of chronic disease. The Journal of Nutrition, 142(6), 1009-18. 10.3945/jn.111.157222
Cleveland HeartLab. (2019). Top Herbs for Your Heart. Cleveland HeartLab, Inc.
Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). (n.d.). Preventing Heart Disease. Harvard
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). (2022).
Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). (2020).
Prevent Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/prevention.htm