Steps you can take to lower your heart disease risk

The most important step you can take to help prevent heart disease is to know and understand the risk factors, and to make lifestyle decisions that can lower that risk. Even if you already have a heart condition, a healthy lifestyle and regular visits to your doctor can help keep it manageable.

The risk factors for heart disease are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having a history of pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) or diabetes during pregnancy
  • Unhealthy (high fat, high calorie, low fiber) diet
  • Age (55 or older for women)

To determine your risk for heart disease, there are some questions you should ask yourself, as well as your primary care physician.

Do you know:

  • If you have a risk of developing heart disease?
  • Your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose level (for diabetes)?
  • What your personal risk factors are, particularly your family history?
  • If there are medications that you should be taking to help manage your risk factors, such as cholesterol-lowering or blood pressure medications?
  • The health of your arteries?

Heart Disease Prevention Plan

Physicians at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute are committed to helping you prevent heart disease. They can work with you to create an individualized plan, based on your known risk factors. They will use details from your family history, exams, imaging procedures and conversations to create a prevention plan that may include:

  • Lifestyle changes, to help modify many of your risks. Changes may include smoking cessation, exercise, diet modifications, relaxation techniques and other proven techniques
  • Medication, to control your risk if appropriate

Heart Healthy Eating Tips

Eat an overall healthy diet that includes:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries, strawberries, and citrus fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils (i.e., olive oil)

Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you choose to eat red meat, compare labels and select the leanest cuts available.

Allow yourself an indulgence every now and then. A candy bar or handful of potato chips won’t derail your heart-healthy diet. Studies have found that dark chocolate, containing 60-70% cocoa, could reduce non-fatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk for these problems. Research has also shown antioxidants in red wine may help prevent heart disease, and champagne has also been found to have heart health benefits. However, doctors do not encourage anyone to start drinking alcohol and to only enjoy in moderation. People can enjoy the heart benefits with just one glass.