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7 Drug-Free Ways To Treat Heart Disease

Medication isn't the only way to get your heart healthy again.

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By Taylor Lupo

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American adults and, if left untreated, can lead to hardening arteries, stroke and heart failure. Treatments are designed to manage conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which can increase your heart disease risk, and include medication, surgery and rehab.

If you're at risk for heart disease, speak with your healthcare provider and follow the recommended treatment. Your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, more exercise and stress reduction in lieu of, or in addition to, medications.

Eat a healthy diet

2 / 8 Eat a healthy diet

A high-fat and high-sodium diet can put stress on your heart. Too much fat and cholesterol cause plaque buildup in the arteries, and sodium can increase blood pressure. Plus, poor eating habits are linked to obesity, another risk of heart disease.

A heart healthy diet, rich fruits, veggies, unsaturated fats and whole grains, can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease. How to build your perfect meal?

  • Choose high-fiber foods with vitamins A, C and E, like whole-grain bread, brown rice and fresh vegetables.
  • Eat  salmon and flaxseed with heart healthy omega-3s.
  • Cut down on red meat and processed foods, which are high in fat and cholesterol.

Rule of thumb: Load half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Then add a 3-ounce serving of lean meat and finish with a cup-sized serving of grains and a touch of healthy fat.

Stabilize your blood sugar

3 / 8 Stabilize your blood sugar

Diabetes, a condition that prevents the regulation of glucose in the blood, and prediabetes, higher than normal blood sugar levels, are two risks for heart disease. Managing your blood glucose levels can reduce the risk of developing the condition. In some cases, medication is needed to stabilize blood sugar levels, but a healthy diet and regular exercise are two great ways to reach your target glucose numbers.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you're at risk for diabetes or you think your blood sugar could affect your heart.

Lose your vices

4 / 8 Lose your vices

Cigarettes and excess alcohol consumption are linked to heart disease, so quit smoking and limit your drinking. Too much drinking may cause obesity and high blood pressure, both conditions associated with heart disease. Excess alcohol intake may also increase your stroke risk, a consequence of heart disease.

Cigarettes damage the heart and blood vessels, increasing risk of atherosclerosis, or arterial plaque buildup, a leading cause of heart disease. It’s never too late to quit; your risk of smoking-related heart disease decreases almost as soon as you stomp out your final cigarette.

Add more movement

5 / 8 Add more movement

Regular exercise can strengthen your heart, decrease high cholesterol and blood pressure, control blood sugar and promote weight loss. Keeping all of these in check can help decrease risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends about 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, three or four times a week to help lower blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Moderate activity can be a brisk walk, a game of doubles tennis or even gardening your yard, while vigorous exercise may be running, swimming, hiking, jumping rope or a swift bike ride. Track your progress with phone apps like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android. It's simple: Download the app, activate the automatic step tracker and get walking. 

Can’t fit in 40 minutes today? Do as much as you can—something is always better than nothing. Or break up your exercise into four 10-minute segments that you can do throughout the day.

Get your stress in check

6 / 8 Get your stress in check

Work, relationships and financial worries can cause stress. Some situations are inevitable, but the way you react may mean the difference between a healthy heart and heart disease. Mismanaged stress can increase high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Reduce your stress levels by making time to exercise, about 40 minutes three or four times a week, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you can't reach these goals right away, start with 10 or 15 minutes a day and work your way there. Other ways to de-stress include:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Removing yourself from a tense situation
  • Tracking your stress with apps like Sharecare
Maintain a healthy weight

7 / 8 Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity and excess body weight can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Alarmingly, nearly 70 percent of Americans are considered overweight or obese.

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, but remember everyone's ideal weight is different. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but consult your healthcare provider before beginning a weight loss regimen.

Head to rehab

8 / 8 Head to rehab

Rehabilitation programs can help control heart disease and high-risk conditions like heart failure or angina, chest pain under emotional or physical stress. Cardiac rehab includes heart health education, exercise training and counseling to reduce stress.

The goal? An improvement in quality of life by adopting a healthy lifestyle, recovering from heart disease-related complications, addressing risk factors and preventing future injury and illness. Ask your healthcare provider if cardiac rehab is right for you.

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