What if we told you that you could prevent heart disease, the number one killer in America? Well, it’s about 80 percent true!

Up to 80 percent of heart disease risk can be attributed directly to lifestyle and dietary behaviors that people can potentially change to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Seven steps to a healthy heart

When it comes to heart disease, there are seven things people can do. These are not just seven good ideas. These are THE seven most important things you can do to live a healthy life, free from cardiovascular disease and stroke!

The seven ways to prevent heart disease:

  1. Manage blood sugar: High blood sugar stimulates the growth of the plaque in your arteries and increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Even if people don’t have diabetes, they should know their blood sugar level. Check at least every three years, because controlling blood sugar is an important part of stopping heart disease before it starts.
  2. Monitor blood cholesterol: Cholesterol (particularly, LDL or “bad cholesterol”) combines with other substances in the blood to form plaques that block the arteries to vital organs such as the heart and the brain.  About 25 percent of the cholesterol comes from the food choices.  Both diet and exercise can lower blood cholesterol levels.
  3. Check your blood pressure: It is important to regularly check your blood pressure because 21 percent of people don’t even know they have high blood pressure! A low sodium diet and weight loss are two ways to help to lower blood pressure in addition to medications.
  4. Stop smoking: The body can start healing the moment you stop smoking. If you’re having trouble kicking the habit, research shows that combining medication and behavioral therapies can increase successful smoking cessation rates.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight: Body mass index (BMI) is a height-to-weight ratio that helps identify the healthy weight target based on a person’s height. It is important to keep the BMI below 25 to avoid heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 
  6. Embrace physical activity: People who exercise have better health and live longer than those who do not. The best way to keep a routine is to choose an activity you enjoy. Walking, biking or rowing are all great for your heart, and you should keep it up at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes at a time.
  7. Enjoy a healthy diet: Eating for good health means choosing lots of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates, and fat-free or low fat dairy products. It also means avoiding foods and drinks with high sodium or added sugar. In addition, regularly include fish rich in Omega-3’s in the diet.

Where to start your heart health journey

If those seven seem overwhelming to you, start slowly by paying attention to your food choices–five of these seven are influenced by what you eat! So by making healthier food choices, you are taking steps to a healthier heart.

It is never too late to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Why not start today!

Wen-Chih "Hank" Wu, MD

Dr. Wen-Chih Wu, MPH, is director of the Lifespan Cardiovascular Wellness and Prevention Center at the Lifespan Cardiovascular institute and specializes in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.