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Keep Your Heart Healthy

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The Basics

You can take steps today to lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

To help prevent heart disease, you can:

  • Eat healthy and get active.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol (“koh-LEHS-tuh-rahl”) and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Manage stress.

Am I at risk for heart disease?
You are at higher risk for heart disease if:

  • You are a woman over age 55
  • You are a man over age 45
  • Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
  • Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65

The good news is that heart disease can be prevented.

What is heart disease?
When people talk about heart disease, they are usually talking about coronary heart disease (CHD). It’s also called coronary artery disease (CAD). This is the most common type of heart disease.

When someone has CHD, the arteries (tubes) that take blood to the heart are narrow or blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material, called plaque (“plak”), build up inside the arteries.

Plaque is caused by:

  • Fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Too much sugar in the blood (usually because of diabetes)

When plaque blocks an artery, it’s hard for blood to flow to the heart. A blocked artery can cause chest pain or a heart attack. Learn more about CHD.

What is a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Parts of the heart muscle may die.

Signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain, like uncomfortable pressure or squeezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body, like the arms, back, neck, or jaw

Not everyone who has a heart attack will have the same signs. Know the other common signs of a heart attack. Call 911 right away if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack.

Take Action!

Take steps today to lower your risk for heart disease.

Know your numbers.
High blood pressure and cholesterol levels can cause heart disease and heart attack.

Get your cholesterol checked.
Men need their cholesterol checked at least once every 5 years. Women at risk for heart disease need their cholesterol checked once every 5 years. Some men and women may need to get their cholesterol checked more often.

Get your blood pressure checked.
Starting at age 18, get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years. High blood pressure has no signs or symptoms.

Use the myhealthfinder tool on the Quick Guide homepage to get more screening recommendations based on your age and sex.

Know your family’s health history.
Your family’s health history can give your doctor or nurse important information about your risk for heart disease. Use this family health history tool to keep track of your family’s health. Share this information with your doctor or nurse.

If you are worried about a family member’s risk for heart disease, use these tips to start a conversation about heart health.

Quit smoking.
When you quit smoking, your risk of having a heart attack goes down. Call 1‑QUIT‑NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support and to set up your quit plan.

Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin every day.
Aspirin can improve the flow of blood to the heart and brain. This reduces your risk of heart attack or stroke. Aspirin is not recommended for everyone. Your doctor can help you decide if aspirin is the right choice for you.

Eat healthy.
A heart healthy diet includes foods that are low in cholesterol, fat, and sodium (salt). Use this shopping list to find heart healthy foods.

Check out these heart healthy recipe collections:

Get heart healthy tips for dining out. For example, ask for a salad instead of chips or french fries.

Watch your weight.
Extra weight can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, losing just 10 pounds can lower your risk of heart disease.

Use this calculator to figure out your BMI (body mass index). External Links Disclaimer Logo

Get active.
Regular physical activity can help prevent heart disease. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. This includes walking fast, dancing, and biking.

If you are just getting started, try walking for 10 minutes a day a few days a week. Then add more activity over time.

Drink alcohol only in moderation.
If you choose to drink alcohol, only have a moderate amount. This means no more than 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.

Manage stress.
Managing stress can help prevent serious health problems like heart disease, depression, and high blood pressure.

Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
When you have diabetes, there is too much glucose (sugar) in your blood. Over time, if it’s not controlled, diabetes can cause serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and blindness.

The good news is that you can do a lot to prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes.

Learn more about taking aspirin every day and watching your weight.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: August 24, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133