The road to cardiovascular health is paved with small, realistic goals. If you want to get an idea of what your heart disease risk is, check out the HeartAware Risk Assessment, and follow up with a discussion with your doctor. There are some risk factors that you might be born with, but there are lots of other factors that you can control with your behavior. The good news is that there's a lot you can do on your own without special treatments or expensive medications. Although you can't control everything, you can feel good about taking steps to reduce your risks and improve your health.
1. Stop Smoking
One of the most significant risks to your heart is also among the most simply eliminated. The toxins from smoking damage both the heart and cardiovascular system, according to the National institute of Health. When you quit, you immediately begin reducing your heart disease risk. Of course, if you're a smoker, you know that this is easier said than done. If you need help, talk to your doctor, or check out Freedom from Smoking, a free, online smoking cessation program offered by the American Lung Association.
2. Switch — Gradually — to a Heart-Healthy Diet
How you eat plays a major role in the health of your heart. Many Americans consume too much sugar, fat, and salt — all three of which are bad for the heart. Fat causes cholesterol to build in the heart, salt increases blood pressure, and sugar contributes to obesity and hypertension.
Switching to a heart-healthy diet has a better chance of succeeding if you make changes gradually. You can start by saying no to seconds, avoiding buffets, or eating smaller, more frequent meals.
Develop a good relationship with your doctor, who can help you make the transition to a healthier diet. The American Heart Association offers advice for how to eat healthy in all aspects of your life.
3. Get Moving
A sedentary lifestyle opens the door to another preventable risk factor. While taking care of your heart is often about cutting things out, the solution to a sedentary lifestyle is to add something to your life: exercise. Talking walks is a great way to get started. Get a friend to join you or put your dog on a leash. Having some company will make your walks for fun and help you stay motivated. — would be a great start.
4. Stay Calm and Rested
Stress is normal, but a constant barrage of bad news heaped on top of whatever difficult life issues you may be facing can adversely affect you and your heart. Finding peace in your life, even if it's only for a few moments, is excellent medicine. Make an effort to manage your stress, but if you feel overwhelmed, seek help.
Many Americans don't get enough sleep, and many live with untreated sleep apnea. A condition that causes breathing to periodically stop at night, sleep apnea slowly starves the heart and other organs of oxygen.
5. Stay Checked Out
Having a primary health care provider, being compliant with your medications, and undergoing regular screenings comprise a strong proactive approach to keeping your heart checked out so that any problems can be spotted early.
Heart disease is often associated with other chronic illnesses, including diabetes. By regularly monitoring them with your doctor, you do your heart a favor. In return, your healthy heart will help prevent chronic diseases and reduce their impact.
6. Supplements and Vitamins Can Help — When Taken Wisely
It's true that some supplements, such as fish oil, might reduce heart disease risk. However, if you aren't careful, you might take something — a stimulant, for example — that will interact poorly with your medications or stress your heart. Talk to your doctor before adding any supplements.
7. Make Water Your Beverage of Choice
No matter what you might hear about a glass of wine here and a beer there, you should never start drinking to improve heart health if you do not already drink alcohol. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking in moderation, but states that there are many cases in which abstaining altogether is best. The same goes for caffeine. Even small amounts can stress the heart. The best thing to drink is plenty of water.
Just change one small thing at a time, and those small things will add up to coronary heart disease prevention. Remember that your doctor is your best resource if you want to learn healthy behaviors. He can help you find the best ways to minimize the risk factors in your control.