Courtesy of Life Line Screening
How To Prevent and Control Heart Disease Risk Factors
You can prevent and control many heart disease risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and overweight and obesity, with lifestyle changes and medicines. Only a few risk factors, such as age, gender, and family history, can’t be controlled.
To reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack, try to control each risk factor you can. The good news is that many lifestyle changes help control several heart disease risk factors at the same time. For example, physical activity lowers your blood pressure, helps control diabetes and prediabetes, reduces stress, and helps control your weight.
A Lifelong Approach
Many lifestyle habits begin during childhood. Thus, parents and families should encourage their children to make heart healthy choices, such as following a healthy diet and doing enough physical activity. Make following a healthy lifestyle a family goal.
To achieve this goal, it’s important to learn about key health measures, such as weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and your child’s BMI-for-age percentile. For more information about BMI in adults and children, see “Heart Disease Risk Factors.”
Be aware of you and your family members’ blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Once you know these numbers, you can work to bring them into, or keep them within, a healthy range.
Making lifestyle changes can be hard. However, making lifestyle changes as a family can make it easier for everyone to prevent or control their heart disease risk factors.
For tips on how to help your children adopt healthy habits, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI’s) We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition Web site. For more information on how to cope with lifestyle changes see “Other Lifestyle Concerns” below.
A healthy lifestyle can lower the risk for heart disease and may prevent current heart disease from worsening. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Following a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Doing physical activity regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
Following a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. To lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack, you and your family should follow a diet that’s:
- Low in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. Transfats are found in some fried and processed foods. Both types of fat raise your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol level.
- High in the types of fat found in fish and olive oil. These fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids lower your risk for heart attack, in part by helping prevent blood clots.
- High in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. A diet that’s rich in these elements not only helps lower your LDL cholesterol level, but also provides nutrients that may help protect against heart disease.
- Low in salt and sugar. A low-salt diet can help you manage your blood pressure. A low-sugar diet can help you prevent weight gain and control diabetes and prediabetes.
Research suggests that drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol regularly also can lower your risk for heart disease. One drink a day can lower your risk by raising your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol level. One drink is a glass of wine, beer, or a small amount of hard liquor.
If you don’t drink, this isn’t a recommendation to start using alcohol. If you’re pregnant, if you’re planning to become pregnant, or if you have another health condition that could make alcohol use harmful, you shouldn’t drink.
Also, too much alcohol can cause you to gain weight and raise your blood pressure and triglyceride levels. In women, even one drink a day may raise the risk for certain types of cancer.
Teach your children how to make healthy food choices. For example, have them help you shop for and make healthy foods. Set a good example by following the same heart healthy diet that you ask your children to follow.
For more information on following a healthy diet, see the NHLBI’s Aim for a Healthy Weight Web site, “Your Guide to a Healthy Heart,” “Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH,” and “Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC.” All of these resources provide general information about healthy eating.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Following a healthy diet and being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight. Controlling your weight helps you control heart disease risk factors.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. A loss of just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can lower your heart disease risk. To lose weight, cut back your calorie intake and do more physical activity.
Eat smaller portions and choose lower calorie foods. Don’t feel that you have to finish the entrees served at restaurants. Many restaurant portions are oversized and have too many calories for the average person.
For overweight children or teens, it’s important to slow the rate of weight gain. However, reduced-calorie diets aren’t advised before you talk to a doctor.
If you’re obese, or if you haven’t been active in the past, start physical activity slowly and build up the intensity over time.
Doing Physical Activity Regularly
You don’t have to be an athlete to lower your risk for heart disease. People gain some health benefits from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
For major health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
Another option is to do a combination of both. A general rule is that 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
The more active you are, the more you will benefit.
Children and youth should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. A great way to encourage physical activity is to do it as a family. You also may want to limit your children’s TV, video, and computer time to encourage them to be more active.
If you have heart disease or symptoms such as chest pain and dizziness, talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise plan. Find out how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe for you. Avoid exercising outdoors when air pollution levels are high or the temperature is very hot or cold.
For more information on physical activity, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” the Diseases and Conditions Index Physical Activity and Your Heart article, and the NHLBI’s “Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart.”
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can raise your risk for heart disease and heart attack and worsen other heart disease risk factors. Talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.
You can help your children avoid smoking or quit smoking. Talk with them about the health effects of smoking. Teach them how to handle peer pressure to smoke.
Teens who have parents who smoke are more likely to smoke themselves. Set a good example by not smoking or quitting smoking. Set firm rules about no tobacco use in your home.
If you have a child who smokes, help him or her devise a plan to quit. Offer your child information and resources on how to quit. Stress the natural rewards that come with quitting, such as freedom from addiction, better fitness and sports performance, and improved appearance. Reinforce the decision to quit with praise.
For more information on how to quit smoking, see the NHLBI’s “Your Guide to a Healthy Heart.” For more information on children and smoking, see the Department of Health and Human Services’ Smoking & How to Quit and Kids and Smoking.
Learning how to manage stress, relax, and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health. Having supportive people in your life with whom you can share your feelings or concerns can help relieve stress.
Physical activity, medicine, and relaxation therapy also can help relieve stress. You may want to consider participating in a stress management program.
Other Lifestyle Concerns
If making lifestyle changes is hard for you, try taking things one step at a time. Learn about the benefits of lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor, and read some of the resources in “Links to Other Information About Heart Disease Risk Factors.”
Figure out what’s stopping you from making or sticking to your lifestyle changes. Think about how to overcome these issues. For example, if you’re too tired to exercise after work, you may want to try working out before you go to work.
Make a plan to carry out your lifestyle changes that includes specific, realistic goals. Act on your plan and work toward your goals. You may want to do so with the help of a support group or supportive friends and family.
Reward yourself for the gains you’ve made. Think about what you need to do to maintain your lifestyle changes and avoid unhealthy habits.
Don’t give up if you go off your diet or exercise plan or start smoking again. Instead, find out what you need to do to get back on track so you can meet your goals. Many people find that it takes more than one try to make long-term lifestyle changes.
Changing the eating and activity habits of children takes time. Start with small, easy steps. For example, cut out after-dinner snacks or go for an after-dinner walk instead of watching TV.
Set a good example, and try to get your children involved in choosing a new healthy step to take each day. Making lifestyle changes a group effort will make them easier.
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or other risk factors. Your doctor also may recommend medicines. For example, you may need medicines to:
- Lower your LDL cholesterol
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your blood sugar level
- Prevent blood clots and/or inflammation
Take your medicines as prescribed. Don’t cut back on the dosage unless your doctor tells you to. If you have side effects or other problems related to your medicines, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to provide other options.
You should still follow a heart healthy lifestyle, even if you take medicines to control your risk factors.