10 Ways to Defy Heart Disease

peaceful women holding her heart

Heart disease can happen at any age. Despite prevention efforts and advances in treatments, heart disease is still the number-one cause of death for women in the United States.

It’s never too early or too late to incorporate heart-healthy habits into your life. Nisha Jhalani, MD, Director of the CRF Women’s Heart Health Initiative, put together the following list of lifestyle changes and risk factor management. These tips can help you and your loved ones defy heart disease.

1. It’s never too early to discuss heart health.

Talk to your doctor about your risk and family history. Begin regular screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes --- three major cardiac risk factors that don’t necessarily have symptoms. Know your numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and waist circumference.

2. Pay attention to pregnancy issues.

Hypertensive conditions during pregnancy can predispose you to heart disease later in life. Did you know gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia affect about 10 percent of all pregnancies and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease? On top of that, gestational diabetes increases your risk seven-fold for type 2 diabetes and is also linked to a higher risk for stroke.

3. Eat right.

Aim for a diet low in saturated and trans fats. Instead, focus on foods high in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats like fish, nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Eat plant-based sources of protein.

4. Drink right.

Drink at least eight glasses of water daily. Avoid sugary beverages or energy drinks. Limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee or tea a day. Drink alcohol moderately. Alcohol abuse can increase your risk for atrial fibrillation, heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke.

5. Don’t smoke.

Smoking hardens your arteries and increases inflammation, which can lead to unstable plaque—a cause of heart blockage. It’s never too late to stop smoking or take advantage of the benefits of being a non-smoker.

  • 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure will go down.
  • 12 hours after quitting, your carbon monoxide levels return to normal.
  • Within three months of quitting, your lung function improves.
  • One year after quitting, your risk for heart disease is cut in half.

6. Get moving.

Exercise is the best medicine. Any exercise, no matter how little, has positive health benefits. To prevent heart disease, do 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

7. Sleep well.

Aim for six to eight hours of sleep per night. More or less than this amount can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Lack of sleep can also cause loss of heart rate variability, insulin resistance, and higher inflammatory markers.

8. De-stress.

Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2017 study showed how changes in the brain under chronic stress, such as anxiety or depression, can lead to increased bone marrow activation, increased inflammation of the arterial walls, atherosclerosis, and cardiac events.

9. Make time for yourself every day.

Stress reduction therapies such as meditation and yoga have been shown to:

  • Decrease activity in your amygdala
  • Increase relaxation and your resilience to stress
  • Reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Decrease your waist size
  • Reduce your heart and respiratory rates

10. Share what you’ve learned.

Many risk factors for heart disease can’t be changed, such as your age, race, sex, and family history. But a healthy lifestyle can cut the risk of heart disease in half even for those who are at the highest genetic risk.

Want to learn more? Watch this video: https://youtu.be/F9oJqHUjL3c