Lifestyle changes can help you prevent or slow the progression of coronary artery disease.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and forces your heart to work harder, and carbon monoxide reduces oxygen in your blood and damages the lining of your blood vessels. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of a heart attack.
- Control your blood pressure. Ask your doctor for a blood pressure measurement at least every two years. He or she may recommend more frequent measurements if your blood pressure is higher than normal or you have a history of heart disease. The ideal blood pressure is below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, as measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
- Check your cholesterol. Ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test when you're in your 20s and at least every five years after. If your test results aren't within desirable ranges, your doctor may recommend more-frequent measurements. Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 3.4 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). If you have other risk factors for heart disease, your target LDL may be below 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L).
- Keep diabetes under control. If you have diabetes, tight blood sugar control can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Get moving. Exercise helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure — all risk factors for coronary artery disease. With your doctor's OK, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most or all days of the week.
- Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, that emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts — and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium — can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating one or two servings of fish a week also is beneficial.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of coronary artery disease. Losing even just a few pounds can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of coronary artery disease.
- Manage stress. Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy techniques for managing stress, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
In addition to healthy lifestyle changes, remember the importance of regular medical checkups. Some of the main risk factors for coronary artery disease — high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes — have no symptoms in the early stages. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health.
Also ask your doctor about a yearly flu vaccine. Coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular disorders increase the risk of complications from the flu.
April 12, 2014
- Coronary heart disease. National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Cad/CAD_WhatIs.html. Accessed October 6, 2013.
- Smith SC, et al. American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology Foundation Secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease: 2011 update. Circulation. 2011;124:2458.
- The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Bethesda, Md.: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/jnc7full.htm. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Executive summary of the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/index.htm. Accessed Oct. 6, 2013.
- Natural product effectiveness checker: High cholesterol. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Natural product effectiveness checker: Hypertension. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Omega-3 supplements: An introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm. Accessed Oct. 6, 2013.
- Wilson PWF. Overview of possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 6, 2013.
- Hanson MA, et al. Coronary Artery Disease. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2013;40:1.
- Wilson PWF. Overview of the risk equivalents and established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 6, 2013.
- Weintraub H. Update on marine omega-3 fatty acids: Management of dyslipidemia and current omega-3 treatment options. Atherosclerosis. 2013;230:381.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 16, 2013.