If you smoke, quit. If someone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit. We know it's tough. But it's tougher to recover from a heart attack or stroke or to live with chronic heart disease. Commit to quit. We're here to help if you need it.
Choose good nutrition
A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight heart disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels and weight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. Choose a healthy diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Include low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils and nuts. And limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, red and processed meats, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium. To maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you take in.
High blood cholesterol
You've got to reduce your intake of saturated fat, avoid trans fat and get moving. If diet and physical activity alone don't get those numbers down, then medication may be the key.
- Total cholesterol
Your total cholesterol score is calculated using the following equation: HDL + LDL + 20% of your triglyceride level.
- Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol = "bad" cholesterol
A low LDL cholesterol level, less than 70 mg/dL, is considered good for your heart health. However, your LDL number should not be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke. Your health care professional may recommend lifestyle changes and medication to lower your LDL if you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
- High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol = "good" cholesterol
With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are typically better. Low HDL cholesterol puts you at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls that increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Lower high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke. Shake that salt habit, take your medications and get moving. Those numbers need to get down and stay down. The optimal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mm Hg.
Be physically active
Sit less and move more. Try to be physically active every day. Research has shown that at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. And something IS better than nothing. If you're inactive now, start out slow. Even a few minutes at a time may offer some health benefits.
Aim for a healthy weight
Eating too many calories and getting too little physical activity can increase your risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many people have a hard time losing weight. But even modest weight loss (5% to 10% of body weight) can help reduce your risk. Weight loss can help improve high blood pressure and cholesterol. It also can help control diabetes. Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and being physically active can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) condition. Even when blood glucose levels are kept under control, diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you have diabetes, regular medical checkups are critical to help keep blood sugar under control. Work with your health care team to develop healthy eating habits, control your weight and get regular physical activity. You also may need medicines to help control your blood sugar or insulin levels.
Get enough sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep every night is vital to your heart health. The amount and quality of sleep you get can influence your eating habits, mood, memory, internal organs and more. Too much or too little can be harmful. Adults should aim for an average of 7 to 9 hours a night. You can improve the quality of your sleep by being physically active during the day, establishing a bedtime routine, keeping your electronic devices out of the bedroom.
Stress may contribute to poor health behaviors, such as smoking or smoking more, overeating and not being physically active. And chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure. All of these factors can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising regularly, making time for friends and family, and practicing relaxation techniques.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy, stroke, cancer and other diseases. It can contribute to high triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. Excessive alcohol consumption also contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents.
If you don’t drink, don’t start. If you drink, limit yourself to one drink per day if you’re a woman, two drinks if you’re a man. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines one drink as 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 5 fl oz of wine, or 12 fl oz of regular beer.