Healthy Habits to Prevent Heart Disease


Habits influence how we live our lives. As New York Times writer Charles Duhigg explains in his recent book The Power of Habit, habits are essentially patterns that help shape every aspect of our lives. As we know, some habits can be good for us, such as exercising, while other habits can be detrimental to our health, such as smoking.

Duhigg suggests that habits begin with a psychological pattern called the “habit loop.” This three-part process includes the cue or trigger, activating the brain to begin the habit, followed by the routine or the behavior itself, concluding with the reward—what your brain likes about the habit to trigger it in the future.

Understanding and interrupting our habit loop, in part by changing our rewards, is the key to breaking bad habits, according to Duhigg. This is one reason why Duhigg recommends beginning new habits (and breaking bad ones) on vacation, when our daily routines are already interrupted and our brains’ habit loops may be easier to shape.

So, now that we understand the importance of habits in our daily lives, what are the good habits we need to focus on to maintain our heart health?

Quit smoking

We know smoking is bad for our health and that research shows quitting smoking reduces our heart risk. Now is the time to quit!

What to Do: Go Red For Women offers numerous resources to help you quit smoking, including frequently asked questions and advice to help you through the process, combatting stress and weight gain.

Consistent exercise

Regular physical activity has many benefits such as helping you quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase HDL cholesterol.

What to Do: Doing aerobic exercise — using large muscles of the legs and arms — on most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes helps your heart work more efficiently. Physical activities to improve your strength, flexibility and balance help you stay agile as you age. Try this at-home workout video with Go Red fitness expert Andia Winslow and more exercise ideas on Go Red For Women.

Manage stress

It’s important to learn how to recognize how stress affects you, learn how to deal with it, and develop healthy habits to ease your stress. Stress is your body’s response to change. The body reacts to it by releasing adrenaline (a hormone) that causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up, and your blood pressure to rise. Constant or continuous stress can be harmful to your heart health. The good news is you can actively manage your stress before it becomes a problem.

What to Do: Understand stress triggers and learn how to respond to stressful situations at home and at work with these stress management resources.

Eat healthy

Do you really know what it means to eat healthy? The AHA recently developed new dietary guidelines to help us better understand how to eat healthy and help lower our heart disease risk.

What to Do: According to the new AHA guidelines, eating right means:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts
  • Avoid red meat, as well as sugary and processed foods
  • Avoid foods high in sodium

“Eating a healthy diet is not about good foods and bad foods in isolation from the rest of your diet – it’s about the overall diet,” said Robert Eckel, M.D., previous AHA president and co-chair of the new guideline committee. Learn more about the new dietary guidelines.

Learn more ways to prevent heart disease at any age in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.