image of unhealthy man on couch

5 lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease

February 11, 2014
image of unhealthy man on couch

Consider these 5 lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease and live a healthier life.

Broken heart got you down? This February, participate in American Heart Month by making small lifestyle changes that could directly affect your risk of heart disease.

“Many people think that heart disease is a men’s disease, but that’s not the case,” says John P. Erwin, III, MD, practicing cardiologist and assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple. “It is just as prevalent in women as in men.”

One in four people die from heart disease each year, and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. The key to controlling heart disease is to practice early prevention techniques.

Erwin recommends the following measures to help lower your chances of heart disease:

1. Manage portion sizes 

It’s not just what you eat— it’s how much. Overeating and going for seconds can mean more calories, fat, and cholesterol in your body. Keep track of portions and use the proper serving sizes to ensure a healthy meal. Stay away from high-calorie and high-sodium foods, like processed or fast foods, to help prevent heart disease.

“Most restaurants put more than one serving into a portion size,” says Erwin. “If you’re eating out, you should eat half of your meal at the restaurant. Then, take the leftovers home and turn them into a second meal.”

Erwin also recommends a Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  This diet incorporates plant based-foods, a high amount of fish and poultry, and replaces butter with olive oil.

2. Exercise regularly

Moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight while lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and stress levels. The Surgeon General recommends two and a half hours of physical activity per week.

“Choose activities you actually enjoy,” notes Erwin. “Your exercise will seem more like ‘fun’ instead of a task on your to-do list.”

3. Stop smoking

Nearly 20 percent of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are correlated to cigarette smoking. This is because cigarette smoke directly affects the blood cells, blood vessels, and arteries. Over time, a build up of plaque in these areas can also affect your heart, limbs, and other organs.

“There is no healthy level of any form of tobacco product—smoke or smokeless,” warns Erwin.

4. Soften stress

Long-term stress can have a major effect on blood pressure that leads to damage of the artery walls. Various stress management techniques, like breathing slowly when overwhelmed and doing yoga, can keep your blood pressure down and your spirits up.

5. Know your numbers

Important numbers—like your Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate—can demonstrate changes in your health. If you experience any changes to these numbers over time, it is important to consult your doctor.

“Your numbers are the best way to measure if you’re at risk for heart disease,” advises Erwin. “They can show possible problems and can keep you on the right track when working to ward off heart disease.”

For more information on how to prevent heart disease at any age, visit the American Heart Association’s cardiovascular health website.

— Kendall Cherry

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