Take Heart: Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease


  • The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease.
  • Family history, advancing age, diabetes, obesity, gender, and ethnic background are the main risk factors of heart disease.
  • To have a healthy heart, start aiming for a better lifestyle.

Did you know that heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States? Both your genes and the environment affect your chances of developing heart issues during your lifetime. Some of these contributing factors are difficult to change. However, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can do to improve your heart health. Diet influences many of the risk factors for heart diseases. Therefore, there is a need to implement preventive measures to reduce your risk. In doing so, you will also take charge of your health. Let us first take a closer look at some of the causes of coronary heart disease. 

What are the Main Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

1. Family History

People with a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop and die from it. Therefore, it is particularly important to know whether you have a first-degree relative (father, mother, or sibling) who had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 55,

2. Advancing Age

Like other diseases, the risk for heart disease increases as we get older. People over the age of 65 are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or coronary heart disease. As we grow older, fatty deposits may build up in the arteries over time. Arteriosclerosis, which is the hardening of your arteries, may occur. High blood pressure (hypertension) may also arise as we age.

3. Diabetes

People with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease. This is because of an excess of glucose in the blood due to the lack of insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults. Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is more common in middle-aged and older adults.

4. Obesity​

Obesity, or having excess fat mass, is another risk factor. It might lead you to develop diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and other heart diseases. Obesity is also related to nutrition because there is an imbalance between your energy intake and energy consumption. We should be concerned as approximately 70% of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. People who are overweight are also more prone to developing high blood pressure.

5. Gender

Heart disease develops about 7 to 10 years later in women. However, it is still a major cause of death for them. Gender differences may also be related to how prevalent high blood pressure is in women over 65 years old. They may also be compounded due to the risk of diabetes and other lifestyle factors.

6. Ethnic Background

Death rates from cardiovascular disease are 33% higher for African Americans in the United States. They also have a greater risk for developing high blood pressure and are more prevalent in certain ethnic groups, particularly African Americans. Non-Hispanic African Americans and Mexican-Americans are at greater risk for diabetes and obesity. These may make them more at risk for developing heart diseases.

How Can We Become More Heart Healthy?

We can begin our  journey to improve health and wellness now! We can start by increasing our awareness and being educated about what we consume. The two key behavioral factors that are associated with heart disease are diet and smoking. Both of these can be modified to support heart health. This will also reduce our susceptibility to heart disease.

Smoking causes one out of every four deaths brought about by  heart disease and stroke. Tobacco is highly addictive, so we advise you not to start smoking at all. Smoking raises the level of fat in the blood. It also lowers the level of “good” cholesterol in the body. This eventually damages the blood vessels and increases the risk for blood clots in the heart and brain. All of these are also true for secondhand smoke. The good news is that once you quit smoking, the heart damage is quickly repaired. This is true even for long-term smokers!

Your diet consists of the nutrients from the food you eat which potentially interact with each other. Your diet and nutrition are equally important to prevent developing heart diseases. Diet greatly influences hypertension. Sodium and potassium also play a significant role in regulating your blood pressure. Those less than 50 years of age should not eat more than 3.8 grams of salt per day. Meanwhile, people over 71 years old should limit their salt intake to 2.9 grams per day. On the flip side, potassium intake should actually be increased to about 4.7 grams per day, which is twice the average daily recommended amount.

We should maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. By doing this, we can significantly lower the risk for heart disease. Simple adjustments to our eating habits and fitness routines can make a huge difference! These positive changes can improve our quality of life and overall health status. It’s never too late to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle!

ays to reduce your risk of heart disease

What is the Recommended Diet to Prevent Heart Disease?

The best diet to promote heart health consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eating whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products is also a great idea too! On the other hand, red meat and processed meats should be limited. We recommend you also avoid refined carbohydrates, sugary or salty food, as well as those high in saturated and trans fats. The American Heart Association developed these guidelines based on the DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The basic recommendation is to follow a diet low in sodium and high in potassium. This will help control your blood pressure levels.

If you want to eat In terms of bread, cereals and grains, we recommend focusing on eating whole wheat products. It’s important to read labels closely and look for products that are 100% whole grain. Brown or wild rice are good choices, as well as whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous.

A variety of foods containing protein are also heart-healthy. There are many options to choose from, including seafood, poultry, beans, peas, eggs, nuts and tofu. Healthy dairy products are those which are fat-free or low-fat. In addition to low-fat milk, cheese and plain yogurt, soymilk is another option. Some people may prefer them or find them easier to digest.

Research indicates that dietary fiber may reduce the risk of various diseases. These include diabetes, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Dietary fiber helps improve serum lipid levels in your blood. It also reduces inflammation in the body. Fiber can lessen the amount of glucose absorbed and insulin secreted which helps control your blood pressure. Among the foods that are rich in fiber include oatmeal and brown rice. Spinach, broccoli, beans, bananas, dried fruits and nuts are also good ideas!

What Other Lifestyle Changes are Beneficial for the Heart?

Aside from changing your diet, smoking, and exercise, there are some more ways to lower your risk of heart disease. The lifestyle factors listed below go straight to the “heart of the matter.”

Alcohol should only be used in moderation. Some studies have indicated that moderate drinking may lower the risk of dying from heart disease. However, this has not yet been proven. Excessive drinking on the other hand, has been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. We recommend limiting your alcohol use up to one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Alcohol has also been found to contribute to obesity. This is because of its high calorie content and its ability to raise blood pressure.

Stress may also contribute to heart disease. This is because it can increase blood pressure. Under extreme stress, heart attacks may occur. When we experience stress, we may eat unhealthy foods excessively, and engage in drinking or smoking. Stress management is especially needed during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Right now is an ideal time to devote more attention to self-care. Some strategies you may look into are focusing on meditation and mindfulness. You can also listen to music and engage in exercise and other activities. These will all make you feel more calm and focused.

Sleep is also a necessary component to boost heart health. Our blood pressure rises when we don’t get adequate sleep. Most adults need at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. This may have been particularly challenging during the pandemic. Increased anxiety, uncertainty, and unavoidable changes in our daily routines may be keeping us from getting the sleep we need. Keep in mind that developing good sleep habits is vital to prevent heart issues. We must always try our best to promote comprehensive health and well-being.

ways to reduce your risk of heart disease

Always Listen to your Heart

We often take the heart for granted as it pumps blood through our network of blood vessels each day. When something goes wrong, we are reminded of how much this vital organ impacts our survival. We can’t change our age, gender, ethnic background and family history. However, there are numerous ways to fight heart disease. We have learned so much about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle considerations. All these will have a tremendous impact on the prevention and treatment of heart disease, if we follow these guidelines. We can improve our heart health through eating a variety of nutritious foods. It’s never too late to set your intentions on self-improvement! This will help you lead a longer and healthier life.

Summary

An individual’s genes and their environment can affect their chances of developing heart issues during their lifetime. Some of the many factors are having vices and unhealthy eating habits that we can develop over time. However, we can still avoid it if we change our lifestyle by following a healthy diet and maintaining it.

Scientific Information

  • Arteriosclerosis – is a chronic inflammation at hemodynamically determined sites of large and medium-sized arteries.
  • DASH Dietstands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It lowers high blood pressure and improves levels of cholesterol. This reduces your risk of getting heart disease.
Written by:

Alice Schluger, PhD

Health Psychology

Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian
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