4. Maintain a healthy weight

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

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 associated with higher blood fats, 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 is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:

  • Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
  • Women are 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 5 to 10 percent can help decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.

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 sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea blocks the airflow through your windpipe and causes 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 include losing weight 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. 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. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren't ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
  • Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20 if they have risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure. If you're healthy, you can start having your cholesterol screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of 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 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.
Feb. 14, 2014 See more In-depth