How can I reduce my risk of heart disease?

People can lower their risk of developing heart disease by preventing or treating and controlling high blood pressure, preventing or treating and controlling high blood cholesterol, not using tobacco, preventing or controlling diabetes, and maintaining adequate physical activity, weight and nutrition. People being treated for conditions or risk factors should follow the guidance of their healthcare providers.

I can reduce my risk of heart disease by reducing the risk factors for heart disease, which include controlling my blood pressure, my blood sugar, my cholesterol, and exercising. It also includes not smoking or using tobacco products and following up with your doctor to be sure that your body is in the best shape it can be in and that you are on the proper medications. If it is felt that you are a good candidate for aspirin, this would be a good addition as well. Seeing your doctor can help give you more advice in this regard.

Tips for reducing heart disease risk.

  • Quit smoking. Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers and are much more likely to die if they suffer a heart attack. If you smoke, quit. Better yet, never start smoking at all.
  • Improve cholesterol levels. The risk for heart disease increases as your total amount of cholesterol increases. A total cholesterol level over 200, a HDL, or "good" cholesterol level under 40, or a LDL, or "bad" cholesterol level over 160 indicates an increased risk for heart disease
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • Get active. Many of us lead sedentary lives, exercising infrequently or not at al. Even leisure-time activities like gardening or walking can lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Eat right. Eat a heart-healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol. Try to increase the amounts of vitamins you eat, especially antioxidants, which have been proven to lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts significant strain on your heart and worsens several other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes
  • Manage stress and anger. Poorly controlled stress and anger can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Use stress and anger management techniques to lower your risk.
  • Control diabetes. If not properly controlled, diabetes can lead to significant heart damage including heart attacks and death.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease in a number of ways.

  • Improving your diet and increasing your exercise can reduce the likelihood you’ll develop heart disease. Eating a low-sodium, low-fat diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables can lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce the dangerous accumulation of fatty deposits around the heart. Additionally, 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking, can also reduce cholesterol levels and increase your heart’s strength.
  • Quitting smoking and avoiding smoking environments will improve your heart’s health. Smoking narrows the heart’s arteries and constricts blood flow, quadrupling the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. Even second­hand smoke has been found to diminish heart health, provoke heart attacks and contribute to the early onset of heart disease.
  • Find ways to manage stress. High levels of stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can increase the likelihood of heart attacks. Take a walk, exercise or talk to a loved one to reduce your stress level and prevent heart complications.
  • Curb your alcohol consumption and your health will appreciate it. The over­consumption of alcohol can lead to heart failure, strokes and the build­up of plaque in artery passageways, paving the way for a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends drinking no more than one drink per day (12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol, defined as 80­ proof).
  • Know that with a healthy diet and exercise, many people with heart disease have led full and active lives. Ask your doctor about the right exercise regimen for you, as well as suggestions on lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Eric Olsen
Fitness Specialist

Regular physical activity works to alter or control risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). For example, exercise strengthens the heart muscle; exercise increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels; exercise appears to reduce the craving for cigarettes, making it much easier to quit; exercise helps us lose weight and keep it off; exercise seems to suppress the appetite and reduce the craving in some for fatty foods; and exercise even reduces stress and the likelihood of depression, which may also contribute to a risk for CVD.

Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

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Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...

Being active, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a healthy diet can decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes by up to 87 percent! So commit today to building these suggestions into your life, and you will reap the benefits:

  • Fish intake. Research has shown that fatty fish and fish oil, which are high in the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, can significantly decrease the risk of dying of a heart attack, especially sudden death heart attacks. Talk to your doctor about your daily recommended intake.
  • Fiber intake. Fiber, especially soluble fiber found in whole grains like oats and barley, can help lower cholesterol. Read food labels to increase your intake and focus on whole grain foods, a variety of veggies and high-fiber fruits. Beans are one of the best sources of soluble fiber, and nuts and seeds are also a good source.
  • Fitness. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of walking daily. Exercise helps lower your risk of heart disease or stroke even if you aren't overweight. And don’t forget strength training (weights) a couple of times a week.
  • Flavonoids. Fill up on phytochemicals. These are plant chemicals which are excellent anti-oxidants and may lower the risk of heart disease. Top sources of flavonoids include blueberries, bananas, green and black tea, citrus fruits, fresh and dried parsley, and onions.
  • Fun. Depression and anxiety have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. It is important to build in some relaxation time into your heart healthy lifestyle. If you feel like you have signs of depression, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of medication or counseling.
  • Fats the right way. Good fats such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, canola oil, avocado and flaxseeds have been shown to decrease risk of heart disease. Try adding small amounts to meals throughout the day. And limit saturated fat. Stay away from trans fats altogether.
  • Add in phytosterols. Phytosterols are plant-based phytochemicals that lower bad cholesterol by interfering with dietary cholesterol absorption in your gut. If your goal is lowering cholesterol, national guidelines recommend 2 grams per day (usually in divided doses). While they exist in small amounts naturally in soybeans, nuts, grains and oils, it’s hard to get enough from food to make a difference. There are lots of new products containing plant sterols.
Dr. Jack E. Dawson, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You can take charge of controlling your risk factors. Do your part to ensure that you and your doctor test, review and strategize so that you can attain each target for your individual risk factors. Your goal is to reduce and control the risk factors responsible for progression of plaque formation in your arteries. In so doing, you control your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and stress by eating healthy and nutritious meals, exercising daily, managing your weight and stress and seeking support through your physician to meet these goals.

Dr. Joshua C. Klapow, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Cardiovascular disease is the nation's number one killer. If you want to reduce your chances of heart disease here's what to do:

  • Maintain a healthy weight to help your motivation level.
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. Get them checked often. Sometimes your local pharmacy will do this for free or at a low cost.
  • Reduce salt intake; don't use it in cooking or add it at the table.
  • Exercise.
  • Don't smoke. Quit immediately if you do!
  • Lower your stress levels, when necessary. Take 10 to 15 minutes to relax your mind and body by using, for example, deep breathing or yoga exercises, listening to soothing music, taking a hot bath or shower, or rearranging your environment—take a walk if a situation becomes overly stressful.
Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever

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Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever

The myriad of books and programs that encourage people to stop smoking, get organized, spend less, or exercise more tend to focus on what or why to change, but rarely explain how to change. Living...

To lower your risk of heart disease, exercise on a regular basis and eat a healthy diet low in sodium and saturated and trans fats. Lower stress through stress-management techniques, stop smoking, manage high blood pressure and high total cholesterol, and moderate your alcohol consumption.

This answer provided for NATA by the Southern Connecticut State University Athletic Training Education Program.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease in the following ways:

  • Get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils. Try to avoid fatty or processed foods. 
  • Keep your weight under control.
  • Keep your cholesterol under control. 
  • Keep your blood pressure less than 130/80.
  • If you have diabetes, keep it under the best control possible.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in this country, but you can lower your risk by taking some simple steps. In this video, Dr. Oz talks about the foods and beverages he recommends for preventing heart disease, and why two phone calls a week can make a powerful difference.


Dr. Rachel D. Keever, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Practice these heart healthy behaviors to reduce your risk of developing heart disease:

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, quit. If someone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit.
  • Reduce blood cholesterol. Make healthy food choices. Limit fat, sodium, sugar and caffeine in your diet. If diet and exercise alone don't reduce your cholesterol, medication may help. Take it regularly as prescribed.
  • Lower high blood pressure. Reduce your sodium intake and take any medication the doctor recommends exactly as prescribed. The optimal goal is blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Exercise regularly. Research has shown that getting 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. But something IS better than nothing.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. A combination of good food choices and regular physical activity is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity places you at risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes—the very factors that heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Manage diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related death. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. If you already have diabetes, manage it appropriately under your physician's care.
  • Reduce stress. Medical research indicates a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress level that may increase the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Someone under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. The risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) is lower than in nondrinkers. However, it's not recommended that nondrinkers start using alcohol or that drinkers increase the amount they drink.
Dr. Kelly Traver

To reduce your risk of heart disease, do as follows:

  • Stay physically active. A regular exercise program significantly reduces the likelihood of developing heart disease and reduces overall mortality. Even among people who have a history of a prior heart attack, the survival rate increases by 80 percent in those who walk every day for 30 minutes.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Minimize red meat and dairy products, which are high in saturated fat. Most of the fat in your diet should be unsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that appear to be particularly healthy for the heart. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish (such as salmon), soybeans, walnuts and flaxseeds. Moderate alcohol consumption can be considered part of a healthful diet because it thins blood, decreases inflammation and can raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level. Current research is studying resveratrol, a component of red wine that appears to be a major factor in decreasing inflammation and promoting longevity. Too much alcohol will negate these health benefits by creating other health risks, such as breast cancer in women, testicular atrophy in men and liver disease in both.
  • Develop good stress management skills. Good stress management is quite important in protecting your heart and blood vessels. Stress is associated with higher rates of heart attacks. People who have higher amounts of anger and hostility are 7-10 times more likely to die of heart disease. The most important skill when it comes to protecting yourself from the ill effects of stress is to know how well you can put the stressors out of your mind. If you can do so easily, you are in good shape.
  • Get a good night's sleep. Sleep is important for repairing all of the body's daily wear and tear, as well as for keeping the stress response off and therefore inflammation down. Also, the risk of a heart attack in someone with sleep apnea is 5-10 times higher than in someone without sleep apnea. Treatment of this disorder is, therefore, critical-be it with weight loss, surgery or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a treatment where a nasal or an oral mask delivers positive pressure to keep the airway open. In some cases, surgery may be indicated.
Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

Information from Vital Signs section of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report:

More than 800,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, stroke and other blood vessel diseases, and many of those deaths could have been prevented. One key way is by controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Medication can help in many cases, but people can do a lot by themselves, as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, points out: “You can control your blood pressure and cholesterol by eating healthy—less salt and less fatty foods—and by getting regular physical activity. Physical activity is a wonder drug. Just 20 or 30 minutes a day of walking can make a huge difference.”

Here's what you can do to reduce your risks for developing heart disease:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Lower your blood pressure to 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), via lifestyle changes or medication if necessary.
  • Lower your blood cholesterol levels to an LDL less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. Raise your HDL to more than 50 mg/dL. And reduce your non–HDL-C (total cholesterol minus HDL cholesterol) to less than 130 mg/dL.
  • Lose weight—maintain or achieve a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 and a waist circumference of 35 inches or less for women and 40 inches or less for men.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Lower your risk factors for diabetes.
  • Decrease stress.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet.

The American Heart Association encourages people to do seven simple things to reduce their risk of heart disease. Called Life’s Simple 7, the program includes four ideal health behaviors and three ideal health factors. These measures all have one thing in common: They are simple to understand but require a commitment and hard work to achieve.

  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat better
  • Get active
  • Lose weight
  • Control cholesterol
  • Maintain a normal blood pressure
  • Reduce blood sugar

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.