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Healthy You

28 Tips to Reduce Your Risk for Heart Disease

Tuesday, February 01, 2022 10:22 AM

By: Susan White

It’s February, which means it’s American Heart Month, and Valentine’s Day and the perfect time to focus on a heart-healthy lifestyle. While there are risk factors that you can’t control—like age—there are many things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease, which is a buildup of plaque in the arteries and can lead to a heart attack.

Here are 28 heart health tips from the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute!

Heart Health Month

  1. Don’t smoke, vape, or use tobacco. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is linked to about one-third of all deaths from heart disease. If you do smoke, make a plan to quit and find a friend or a support group to help keep you accountable.
  2. Quitting smoking is hard. Just because you have tried before doesn’t mean it won’t work this time. Your physician can help you review options like nicotine replacement or medicine. Find ways to reward yourself along the way as you reach milestones.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Determine your Body Mass Index (BMI) with the help of your physician or online resources and develop a healthy eating plan if you need to lose weight. 
  4. Learning how to track calories in and out (through physical activity) may help you develop a healthy eating plan. If you are not able to lose weight on your own, meet with a registered dietitian or your physician who can help with proven strategies to reach and maintain a healthy BMI.
  5. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Limit sugary drinks, processed meats, refined carbohydrates like added sugars, and processed foods. A healthy eating habit with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides beneficial nutrients and helps reduce the risk for many chronic health conditions including heart disease.
  6. Move more. Stay active and try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. In general, think about sitting less and moving more. Walking is a great way to start a fitness plan. Add more intensity as you get stronger/more fit and consult with your physician before beginning a strenuous exercise plan.
  7. Keep your cholesterol levels in normal ranges. Your cholesterol score is based on high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol plus Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol plus 20 percent of your triglyceride level. Check with your physician to learn your current cholesterol level.
  8. If you need to lower your cholesterol, a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts combined with more physical activity can help. A sedentary lifestyle lowers HDL, or good cholesterol, which helps offset the bad cholesterol. Strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Brisk walking or jogging, cycling or swimming are all good options.
  9. Keep your blood pressure in check. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, which makes the heart muscle thicker and stiffer and ultimately function less efficiently. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure.
  10. Increasing your activity level can also help improve your blood pressure. When high blood pressure is in combination with obesity, smoking, or high cholesterol levels the risk of heart disease is much higher. In some cases, your physician may recommend medication to help reduce blood pressure.
  11. Reduce Stress! We’ve all heard it before and it’s true; chronic stress can contribute to a higher risk for heart disease. Do what you can to let things go, slow down and breathe deeply when you feel overwhelmed.
  12. Get outside and move to fight stress—even a short walk or a quick change of scenery from your desk or office can help break the tension and allow you to reset.
  13. Laughter really is good medicine—laughing with friends or alone can make you feel better!
  14. Staying connected with friends and family members is good for you. Even a phone call to someone you haven’t connected with in a while can help you slow down and feel better.
  15. Take a break from the news and social media. Watching/reading/listening to the 24-hour news cycle can be a big source of stress for many people.
  16. Ignoring social media, or at least trying to look past negativity or constant comparisons can do wonders for improving stress.
  17. Chill out with your favorite music or podcast.
  18. Practice gratitude and find time to help others whether it’s a formal volunteer program or just lending a hand to a friend.
  19. Pets have been shown to help lower stress. If you don’t have one, pet a friend or neighbor’s dog or ask to go on a walk with them.
  20. Meditation and prayer can help refocus a stressful situation and add perspective. There are plenty of free or low-cost guides available digitally to establish a new meditation practice.
  21. Learn to live in the moment and adopt more mindful behavior—this can help establish healthier eating and exercise routines too, and lower stress.
  22. Make time to learn a new skill or develop a hobby that you’ve always wanted to try.
  23. Get enough sleep! Up to one-third of adults don’t get adequate sleep putting them at risk for heart disease and a host of other chronic conditions. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
  24. Practice good sleep hygiene like limiting screen time before bed and regular routines like going to bed around the same time every night. If you are still unable to get enough sleep talk to your physician about the possibility of a sleep study.
  25. Drink alcohol only in moderation, which means no more than two drinks a day for men and not more than one drink a day for women.
  26. Enjoy life, a positive outlook can help keep stress at bay!
  27. Knowledge is power! Understand your personal risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.
  28. Genetics can play a role. Children of parents with heart disease are at greater risk of developing heart disease themselves. Talk to your physician about the possibility of genetic testing and personalized risk management.

For more information on heart health or to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist, click here to visit the NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute.