Your hardest working muscle needs your help


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 610,000 Americans die of heart disease every year — that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

“Caring for your heart is important at every age, but especially once you enter your late 20s and early 30s,” says Jitesh Vasadia, MD, chief of cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center in Northern California. As you age, so do your blood vessels. Heart disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries. When this happens, your arteries can narrow over time, reducing blood flow to the heart, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems.

You can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy by changing your daily habits. Here are 7 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease with heart-healthy lifestyle choices.

Stop smoking

Cigarette smoking can damage your heart and blood vessels. “When you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of heart attack by up to 50%,” says Dr. Vasadia.

Choose healthy foods

Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to prevent or reverse cardiovascular disease. “Try a Mediterranean diet,” says Dr. Vasadia. “Research shows that it can reduce your risk of heart attack.” Add these foods to your diet:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables every day. Go for dark green, deep orange, and yellow fruits and veggies like spinach, carrots, and berries.
  • Eat oily fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, at least 2 times a week. This includes salmon, mackerel, and herring.
  • Choose and prepare food with little or no salt.
  • Eat whole-grain foods that have lots of fiber.

Move your body

Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart problems. So, get your heart pumping. Brisk walking, swimming, or cycling are especially good for the heart, but choose any activity you enjoy. Start at your comfort level and build up gradually. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise each week or at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days.

Drink alcohol in moderation

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and increase your risk for heart conditions. It also increases levels of triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, which can harden your arteries. Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men.

Manage your stress

Stress, anger, anxiety, and depression may keep your blood pressure high and increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, and other illnesses. Learn healthy coping skills to reduce your stress like meditation, journaling, or breathing techniques.

Maintain a healthy weight

Lowering your weight by just 10% can make a significant difference in reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. For most people, body mass index (BMI) and waist size are good ways to tell if you’re at a healthy weight.

Get regular check-ups

Visit your doctor regularly, get your blood pressure checked, and ask if you may need other tests for your heart health. The tests you need depend on your age, health, gender, and certain risk factors. Talk to your doctor to find out which tests are right for you.