4. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease.

One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are generally associated with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:

  • Men are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
  • Women are generally overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar (glucose), and reduce your risk of diabetes. Losing even more weight can help lower your blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.

5. Get enough quality sleep

Sleep deprivation can do more than leave you yawning throughout the day; it can harm your health. People who don't get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you're getting enough sleep. But, if you're constantly reaching for the snooze button and it's a struggle to get out of bed, you need more sleep each night.

Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it's easier to sleep.

If you feel like you've been getting enough sleep, but you're still tired throughout the day, ask your doctor if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea.

In obstructive sleep apnea, your throat muscles relax and block your airway intermittently during sleep. This may cause you to stop breathing temporarily. Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring loudly; gasping for air during sleep; waking up several times during the night; waking up with a headache, sore throat or dry mouth; and memory or learning problems.

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include losing weight if you're overweight or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that keeps your airway open while you sleep. CPAP treatment appears to lower the risk of heart disease from sleep apnea.

6. Manage stress

Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health.

7. Get regular health screenings

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.

  • Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings usually start in childhood. You should have a blood pressure test performed at least once every two years to screen for high blood pressure as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, starting at age 18.

    If you're age 40 or older, or you're between the ages of 18 and 39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

  • Cholesterol levels. Adults should generally have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 18. Earlier testing may be recommended if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease.
  • Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test or hemoglobin A1C test to check for diabetes.

    Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you don't have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.

If you have a condition such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes. Make sure to take your medications as your doctor prescribes and follow a healthy lifestyle plan.

June 17, 2016 See more In-depth