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Take Action to Beat Heart Disease

If you’re at risk for heart disease, we have good news for you. Many people can take steps to significantly reduce their chances of developing it. Even if you already have atherosclerosis or have had a heart attack, there’s a lot you can do to prevent future heart problems.

Cardiac catheterization, bypass operations, angiography, stents and statins are helping many people with heart disease live longer. Even so, heart disease is still the most common cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You can help make sure you don’t become a statistic by taking steps to lower your risk.

Risk factors

Some risk factors are beyond your control: You can't change your gender (males have a higher risk), your family history or your age (risk increases with age).

Other major risk factors, however, can be modified. You can help lower your risk for developing heart disease by making positive lifestyle changes. Even if you already have heart disease, doing these things can help you prevent a future heart attack:

  • Stop smoking. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers, the AHA says.

  • Control high blood pressure. If you have blood pressure higher than recommended, work with your health care provider to lower it. Dropping just 12 to 13 points can lower your risk of having a heart attack by 21 percent.

  • Control high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, particularly if you have high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, work with your provider to lower it. Even a 10 percent reduction in your total cholesterol may decrease your risk for heart disease by 30 percent.

  • Lose extra weight. If you are overweight or obese, even dropping just 10 pounds can make a difference.

  • Get physically active, with your doctor’s approval. Being inactive can raise your risk by 50 to 140 percent. That makes it just as dangerous as smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

  • Control diabetes. If you have diabetes, maintain control. About 68 percent of people with this condition die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes.

You can tackle several risk factors at once by doing just three things: eating healthier foods, exercising and taking your medications as instructed.

Diet and health

Watching what you eat can reduce your risk for heart disease. Limit foods that are high in calories and saturated fat because they can lead to gain, as well as high cholesterol levels.

Consider these foods, which are high in nutrition:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. These vegetables contain vitamins C and K, and folate. These nutrients may lower your risk for heart disease and some cancers.

  • Beans and other legumes. They’re high in protein and a good source of fiber, which is good for your heart.

  • Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. They contain antioxidants, fiber and vitamins.

  • Pomegranates. Pomegranate juice may help lower high cholesterol in people with diabetes.

  • Walnuts. These nuts are high in fat, but it's not the saturated kind. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce cholesterol.

  • Flaxseeds. Also high in unsaturated fat, these are another good source of omega-3s.

Power of exercise

Exercise can cut your risk for heart disease by helping you lose weight and control your blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels, the AHA says. Exercise for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise on most days. Brisk walking, running, swimming and cycling all qualify. But, talk with your doctor before starting to exercise, especially if you already have heart disease.

Feeling unmotivated? Keep this in mind: If you weigh 200 pounds, you could lose 14 pounds in a year by adding a brisk 1-1/2-mile walk to your daily routine and eating sensibly. Not very athletic? Pick an activity that doesn’t require new skills. Hate exercising alone? Ask a friend to join you.

Take your medication

Following a healthier lifestyle may be enough to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol or even diabetes in check. But, if it isn’t doing the trick, your health care provider may recommend prescription medication, the AHA says. 

Read the label on your medication, as well as any information provided by your pharmacy regarding your prescription. If you’re taking more than one medication, consider filling all your prescriptions at one pharmacy. This may help you prevent possibly dangerous interactions. Let your provider know about any side effects, but never stop taking medicine on your own.