Health Advocate Blog

9 ways to protect your heart, starting now

You might not read about it in the daily news, but the fact is, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. While some people are born with heart disease, there are many risk factors–from being overweight to having high blood pressure–that can be controlled or modified through lifestyle changes or medications, reducing your chances of developing heart disease. Make 2020 your year to take steps to protect your heart! Step one: talk to your doctor about your personal risks. And consider taking these heart-healthy actions, remembering that it’s never too early or too late to get started!

Strive for a healthy weight. Be physically active every day. Adopt the motto “move more, sit less.” Some ideas: set a reminder on your computer to get up and move for several minutes every few hours. Or, pace while talking on the phone. Always park in a spot farthest from the store, office or other destination. Be sure to include a regular exercise routine combined with a healthy diet to help achieve and sustain weight loss. 

Choose nutrient-rich foods. Eat more fiber-rich fruits and veggies and fewer fatty, salty, sugary foods and red meat. Limit alcohol, too!

Control your medical conditions. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions for adhering to regular check-ups and any medications.

Tame your stress. Long-term stress bumps up your heart rate and blood pressure that can damage artery walls. To short-circuit your body’s stress response, try taking mini “mindfulness breaks,” focusing your full attention on slow deep breathing. It’s also a good idea to include a relaxing activity, like walking, yoga, reading, woodworking or another hobby into your weekly schedule.

If you smoke, quit–and avoid secondhand smoke, too! Nonsmokers are up to 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease from secondhand smoke exposure at home or work.

Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a fatty substance in the blood which can increase the risk for heart disease. Women should have no more than one drink a day. Men should have no more than two drinks a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Don’t ignore snoring. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea, a condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep. If not properly treated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. If your partner mentions your snoring or you suspect you may be snoring on a regular basis, talk to your doctor about being tested through a sleep study.

Watch creeping weight gain. You may notice your metabolism slowing down in your 40s and your waistline is expanding, for example. Nevertheless, you can avoid weight gain by stepping up your efforts to maintain a heart-healthy diet, eating smaller portions, and getting plenty of exercise.

Having a family history of heart disease (especially having a parent or sibling with it) puts you at risk. Talk to your doctor about the best way to stay heart-healthy.