Based on the results of your test, your doctor will discuss with you whether you have a heart condition that needs treatment, whether you're at risk of developing heart disease, and steps you can take to keep your heart healthy. Treatments may vary, depending on what condition your doctor suspects you have.

Regardless of the results of your test, it's a good idea to make lifestyle changes to help protect your heart. These include:

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure — all risk factors for heart disease. With your doctor's OK, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Even if you can't make time for one 30- to 60-minute exercise session, you can still benefit from breaking up your activity into several 10-minute sessions.
  • Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and 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.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially atherosclerosis. 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 the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease and its complications.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can contribute to high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight lessens these risks. Even a small weight loss of just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight helps reduce your risk.
  • Manage health conditions. If you have high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes, be sure to take your medications as directed. Losing weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly can help control these heart disease risk factors too. Ask your doctor how often you need follow-up visits.
  • Manage stress effectively. Stress can cause your blood vessels to constrict, upping the odds of a heart attack. Ask your doctor about stress management programs in your area. Exercise can help reduce stress too.
May 15, 2014