Heart disease is a leading cause of death, but it's not inevitable. While you can't change some risk factors — such as family history, sex or age — there are plenty of ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Get started with these seven tips for boosting your heart health:
1. Don't smoke or use tobacco
One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco. Even if you're not a smoker, be sure to avoid secondhand smoke.
Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in your blood, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate because your heart has to work harder to supply enough oxygen to your body and brain.
There's good news though. Your risk of heart disease starts to drop in as little as a day after quitting. After a year without cigarettes, your risk of heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. No matter how long or how much you smoked, you'll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
2. Get moving: Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily
Regular, daily physical activity can lower your risk of heart disease. Physical activity helps you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
If you haven't been active for a while, you may need to slowly work your way up to these goals, but in general, you should aim for at least:
- 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace
- 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running
- Two or more strength training sessions a week
Even shorter bouts of activity offer heart benefits, so if you can't meet those guidelines, don't give up. Just five minutes of moving can help, and activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total. You don't have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
A healthy diet can help protect your heart, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. A heart-healthy eating plan includes:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Beans or other legumes
- Lean meats and fish
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil
Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.
Limit intake of the following:
- Processed carbohydrates
- Saturated fat (found in red meat and full-fat dairy products) and trans fat (found in fried fast food, chips, baked goods)
- Sample Category #1