Take a moment to consider your lifestyle, family history and general health. With this information, you and your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to tackle potential problems.
Men older than 45 years of age and women older than 55 years of age (or who have gone through menopause) are at greater risk for heart disease. Also, the rates of heart attack over the last 20 years have been increasing for women 35 to 54 years of age. Although you can't do much about your age, you can affect many of the other risk factors listed below.
You can't change your family history. But it is important for you to know what "runs in the family" and to tell your doctor. Talk to your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles about who in your family has had a heart attack, stroke or other serious health problem. With this information, your doctor can recommend the best kinds of screening tests and preventive treatments.
If you don't know your cholesterol level, ask your doctor if it should be checked. There are good (HDL cholesterol) and bad (LDL cholesterol) types. To reduce and prevent high (bad) cholesterol, limit how much fat you eat and exercise regularly. Some people who have high cholesterol levels may also need to take medicine to keep their levels under control.
If your blood pressure is high, losing weight, exercising, not smoking and, in some cases, cutting down on sodium (salt) and alcohol will help. Some people may also need to take medicine to control their blood pressure.
Quitting is the single best change you can make for your health. Talk to your family doctor about how to quit and stay tobacco-free. If you live with a smoker, breathing his or her smoke can also affect your health. Encourage the smoker to quit.
A diet high in fat has been linked with heart disease (and many other health problems). Fat in the bloodstream can harden and clog your arteries. A healthy diet is high in fiber and low in unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Each day, try to eat:
- 6 to 8 ounce equivalents of whole grain bread, cereal, rice or pasta
- 3 1/2 to 5 cups of fresh fruit or fresh or frozen vegetables
- 3 cups of non-fat (skim) milk, low-fat yogurt or low-fat or non-fat cheese
- 5 to 6 1/2 ounce equivalents of lean meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or egg whites
In addition, use butter, margarine and cooking oils sparingly. You may also need to avoid foods that are high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Sodium is found in table salt and many prepared foods, especially canned foods.
Although some research suggests alcohol can help protect against heart disease, moderation is the key. Limit how much alcohol you drink. This means no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and two alcoholic drinks a day for men.
Being overweight puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. A high-fiber, low-fat diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight gradually and safely, and keep it off. Talk to your doctor about the best ways for you to lose weight.
Exercise can help prevent heart disease and many other health problems. You'll also feel better and help keep your weight under control if you exercise regularly. If you haven't exercised for a while or have health problems, talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. Exercising 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week is a good goal, but any amount is better than none.
Other health problems
Health problems such as diabetes can contribute to heart disease. Talk to your family doctor for individual advice.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff