Education & Prevention
Browse these articles and short videos to learn more about heart-health risk, prevention, and treatment.
If you’re younger and have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may think you have nothing to worry about. However, high cholesterol isn’t healthy, no matter how young or old you are.
If you’re currently dealing with high cholesterol, you can bring your numbers back to normal levels through smart lifestyle choices.
EAT WITH YOUR HEART IN MIND. To manage cholesterol, stay away from fried foods, red meat, egg yolk, butter and whole-fat dairy. Choose lean proteins instead, such as chicken, fish, tofu and legumes. Add whole grains, low-fat dairy and fresh fruits and vegetables for a well-rounded diet.
MOVE MORE. Being physically active for 30 minutes most days of the week can help you keep your cholesterol in check. Pick activities you enjoy, such as swimming, running, playing sports or dancing—you’ll be more likely to keep up a routine.
TALK TO YOUR PHYSICIAN. If you’re doing your part but the numbers aren’t budging—or you have a family history of high cholesterol—your physician may put you on a medication to help you bring down your cholesterol.
#1 Shop the perimeter of the store. This tactic will ensure you purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy instead of the processed, packaged foods located in the center aisles.
#2 Fresh foods unavailable? Buy frozen instead. Frozen fruits and vegetables still contain needed nutrients and benefits that are typically lost when canned. If canned foods are your only options, purchase foods packed in water without added sugars, salt, saturated fats or trans fats.
#3 Choose fat-free (skim), low-fat (1 percent) or soy milk. Avoid those that are flavored, such as chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, as these products typically have added sugars and calories.
#4 Do you fall victim to snack attacks? Stock up on raw vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, broccoli and carrot sticks for a grab-and-go snack that is sure to satisfy your hunger and prove a healthier option than cookies or chips.
#5Instead of butter, purchase soft margarines containing 0 grams of trans fat, which are usually found in plastic tubs.
As the leading killer of people in the United States, heart disease is no laughing matter, but taking preventive action doesn’t have to be drop-dead serious.
The simplest way to prevent cardiovascular disease starts with assessing your personal risk factors, which can be divided into two categories— modifiable, or those that can be changed; and uncontrollable, or those that cannot be changed. Beyond the major risk factors identified as main contributors to heart disease, some other lifestyle factors may contribute to the condition.
A Heart for Life
The three major risk factors that cannot be changed are increasing age, heredity (which includes race) and gender. “Individuals with a family history of heart disease need to have increased awareness about their risks and talk with their physician about other factors that may affect their chances,” says Terry Ketch, MD, cardiologist with TriStar Medical Group. “While males have a greater risk of having a heart attack, different life changes affect a woman’s risk of heart disease and related conditions, such as stroke, later in life than men.”
Alterations for a Heart Health Makeover
While the uncontrollable risk factors may be discouraging, you can greatly decrease the potential for heart disease by controlling these changeable factors:
- SMOKING. Individuals who smoke face a two to four times greater chance of developing heart disease than non-smokers. Tobacco smoke is one of the single standalone factors for the disease, and it can complicate or influence other risk factors. Get tips to help you quit smoking »
- HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL, especially when combined with other risk factors, affects your risk. See “Need-to-Know Numbers” in the box to the right to assess your levels, and talk with your physician to determine if you’re a candidate for cholesterol-controlling medications. Find a cholesterol-lowering diet »
- HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE affects more than cardiovascular disease—this condition forces your heart to work harder to pump blood, which stiffens the muscle itself. Recommendations to help prevent high blood pressure »
- PHYSICAL INACTIVITY can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Get ideas for heart healthy physical activity »
- BEING OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE can put a person at risk even if he or she doesn’t have other contributing risk factors. Learn about weight loss aids »
- HAVING DIABETES MELLITUS can elevate a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Find out more about Diabetes Mellitus »
Other lifestyle factors that may contribute to your risk of heart disease include stress, drinking alcoholic beverages and diet and nutrition.“The more risk factors an individual has the higher potential he or she has for developing heart disease,” says Dr. Ketch. “By controlling even one risk factor, you can greatly improve your health and decrease your chance of developing cardiovascular conditions.”
Time to Act
Armed with knowledge of risk factors, you can combat heart disease one step at a time—literally. Incorporating physical activity into your regular routine is a great start to improving heart health, and it only takes as little as 10 minutes at a time.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that breaking up the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity into shorter intervals achieves the same goal. Take three 10-minute walks a day at least five days a week to get started, and increase your intervals as you feel more comfortable. This amount of exercise can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as help you maintain a heart-healthy weight.
A nutritious, balanced diet also helps improve heart health and decreases your likelihood of developing heart disease—as well as lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Use nutrient-packed ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, and make small substitutions that boost your heart health. Substitutions can be as simple as switching skim milk for whole, or making a meat-free entrée for the family that uses protein-rich beans instead.
Perhaps it’s the natural, primitive instinct to nurture, but women tend to spend a majority of their lives caring for the needs of others; even placing someone else’s wellbeing before their own. This tendency can also lend itself to lack of attention to personal physical and mental health, including neglecting heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 8 million women in the United States currently live with heart disease, many without any recognizable symptoms. Risk factors for heart disease include:
- being overweight or obese
- excessive alcohol use
- family history of heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- increased age
- lack of exercise
- poor diet
While age and family history are uncontrollable risk factors, simple lifestyle modifications can greatly decrease your chances of acquiring heart disease.
Enjoy a Bountiful DietImproving your daily diet is a great first step toward living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Reduce your intake of high-fat foods and red meat and increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products. Some examples of proven, heart-healthy foods include salmon, almonds, oatmeal, soy milk, red bell peppers, spinach, blueberries, sweet potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, black beans, brown rice and even dark chocolate (in small quantities). Reducing salt intake is essential—make up for flavor by experimenting with herbs and spices to liven up dishes.
Get Physically FitYour heart is a muscle—and exercise is key to keeping it healthy and strong. Ensure you work in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity three to five days a week, whether it’s walking after work or doing a Zumba® class at the gym. Remember: schedule workouts into your daily agenda just as you would meetings, errands and other activities.
Limit Alcohol ConsumptionDrinking alcohol in excess can contribute to developing heart disease. Experts recommend no more than one glass (8 ounces) of alcohol in a 24-hour period for women and no more than two glasses for men. The good news? Red wine has been linked to helping improve your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, so toast to your health—in moderation.
Kick the ButtSmoking is one of the most destructive activities for your health. Not only does it increase your risk of heart disease, but also cancer, stroke, heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other serious health conditions. Smoking is also the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Do your body a favor and quit smoking.
Remember, lifestyle changes take time and commitment. You can’t expect to be victorious overnight. Take small steps toward success and talk with your physician about assessing your risks for heart disease.