Strategies to prevent heart disease

You can prevent heart disease by following a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are strategies to help you protect your heart.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Heart disease is a leading cause of death, but it's not inevitable. While you can't change some risk factors — such as family history, sex or age — there are plenty of ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Get started with these seven tips for boosting your heart health:

1. Don't smoke or use tobacco

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco. Even if you're not a smoker, be sure to avoid secondhand smoke.

Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in your blood, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate because your heart has to work harder to supply enough oxygen to your body and brain.

There's good news though. Your risk of heart disease starts to drop in as little as a day after quitting. After a year without cigarettes, your risk of heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. No matter how long or how much you smoked, you'll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

2. Get moving: Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily

Regular, daily physical activity can lower your risk of heart disease. Physical activity helps you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

If you haven't been active for a while, you may need to slowly work your way up to these goals, but in general, you should aim for at least:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace
  • 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running
  • Two or more strength training sessions a week

Even shorter bouts of activity offer heart benefits, so if you can't meet those guidelines, don't give up. Just five minutes of moving can help, and activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total. You don't have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

A healthy diet can help protect your heart, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. A heart-healthy eating plan includes:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Beans or other legumes
  • Lean meats and fish
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats, such as olive oil

Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.

Limit intake of the following:

  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Processed carbohydrates
  • Alcohol
  • Saturated fat (found in red meat and full-fat dairy products) and trans fat (found in fried fast food, chips, baked goods)

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight — especially around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of developing heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

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

Waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have. Your risk of heart disease is higher if your waist measurement is greater than:

  • 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm) for men
  • 35 inches (88.9 cm) for women

Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 3% to 5% can help decrease certain fats in your blood (triglycerides), lower your blood sugar (glucose) and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Losing even more helps lower your blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.

5. Get good quality sleep

A lack of sleep can do more than leave you yawning; 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 at least seven hours of 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, a condition that can increase your risk of heart disease. Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, stopping breathing for short times during sleep and waking up gasping for air. 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.

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. Starting at age 18, your blood pressure should be measured at least once every two years to screen for high blood pressure as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

    If you're between 18 and 39 and have risk factors for high blood pressure, you'll likely be screened once a year. People age 40 and older also are given a blood pressure test annually.

  • Cholesterol levels. Adults generally have their cholesterol measured at least once every four to six years. Cholesterol screening usually starts at age 20, though earlier testing may be recommended if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease. If you have risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening. If your weight is normal and you don't have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, screening is recommended beginning at age 45, with 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.

Oct. 26, 2019 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Air pollution and exercise
  2. Angina
  3. Atkins Diet
  4. Automated external defibrillators: Do you need an AED?
  5. Blood Basics
  6. Blood tests for heart disease
  7. Bradycardia
  8. 4 Ways to Prevent Heart Attack
  9. Fact or Fiction? Debunking Exercise & Nutrition Myths for Preventing Heart Disease and Risk Factors
  10. Freezing Heart Muscle
  11. Healthy Heart Numbers
  12. Heart disease in women
  13. Mayo Clinic - Holiday Heart Attack and Stroke Risk
  14. New Route to the Heart
  15. Screenings of newborns and athletes for genetic heart disease
  16. Sports Cardiology Program
  17. Supraventricular Tachycardia
  18. Transplant Advances
  19. Butter vs. margarine
  20. Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?
  21. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  22. Cardiac ablation
  23. Infographic: Cardiac Ablation
  24. Cardiac amyloidosis — Treatment options
  25. Cardiac amyloidosis — What is amyloid and how does it affect the heart
  26. Cardiac catheterization
  27. Cardioversion
  28. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  29. Chest X-rays
  30. Complete blood count (CBC)
  31. Control your portions, control your weight
  32. Coronary angiogram
  33. Coronary angioplasty and stents
  34. Coronary artery spasm: Cause for concern?
  35. Coronary bypass surgery
  36. Cough
  37. CT scan
  38. CT scans: Are they safe?
  39. Daily aspirin therapy
  40. Dizziness
  41. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  42. Dyspnea
  43. ECG at Mayo Clinic
  44. Echocardiogram
  45. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  46. Exercise and chronic disease
  47. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  48. Fatigue
  49. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  50. Flu shots and heart disease
  51. Foot swelling during air travel: A concern?
  52. Grass-fed beef
  53. Hand swelling during exercise: A concern?
  54. Is chocolate healthy?
  55. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  56. Healthy Heart for Life!
  57. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  58. Heart arrhythmias
  59. Heart attack
  60. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  61. Heart attack symptoms
  62. Heart Attack Timing
  63. Heart disease
  64. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  65. Heart disease and oral health
  66. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  67. Heart murmurs
  68. Heart transplant
  69. Supplements and heart drugs
  70. Holter monitor
  71. Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
  72. Leg swelling
  73. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  74. Mediterranean diet
  75. Mediterranean diet recipes
  76. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  77. MUFAs
  78. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  79. NSAIDs: Do they increase my risk of heart attack and stroke?
  80. Nuclear stress test
  81. Numbness
  82. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  83. Olive oil
  84. Omega-3 in fish
  85. Omega-6 fatty acids
  86. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  87. Organ transplant in highly sensitized patients
  88. Pacemaker
  89. Pericardial effusion
  90. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  91. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  92. Pseudoaneurysm: What causes it?
  93. Pulmonary edema
  94. Put fish on the menu
  95. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  96. Shortness of breath
  97. Silent heart attack
  98. Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
  99. Mediterranean diet
  100. Vegetable recipes
  101. Guide to gourmet salt
  102. Sodium nitrate in meat: Heart disease risk factor?
  103. Sodium: Smarten up
  104. Stress symptoms
  105. Stress test
  106. Tachycardia
  107. Testosterone therapy side effects: What are the heart risks?
  108. Infographic: The blueprints to your heart
  109. The Last Brother's Heart
  110. The power of a plant-based diet for heart health
  111. Integrative approaches to treating pain
  112. Lifestyle strategies for pain management
  113. Nutrition and pain
  114. Pain rehabilitation
  115. Self-care approaches to treating pain
  116. Treating pain: Conventional medical care
  117. Treating pain: Overview
  118. Understanding pain
  119. Trans fat
  120. Triathlete Transplant
  121. Trouble breathing
  122. Coronary angioplasty
  123. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  124. Can having vitamin D deficiency cause high blood pressure?
  125. What is meant by the term heart age?
  126. Whole grains for a healthy heart
  127. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease