(RxWiki News) Written By Anyssa Garza, PharmD, BCMAS
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. But you can say no to heart disease by learning about the condition and taking steps to improve your heart health.
Heart disease generally refers to conditions that involve blocked or narrowed blood vessels, which can lead to many issues, such as chest pain, heart attack and stroke.
There are risk factors that are out of your control, but there are also many that you can control to lower your risk of heart disease. Risk factors that you cannot control include older age, gender, family history, and race or ethnicity.
However, you do have control over the following factors:
- Maintain a normal blood pressure. A major risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, so it's important for you to get your blood pressure checked. If you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is recommended to have your blood pressure checked more often. Diet, exercise and, if needed, medications can help control your blood pressure.
- Keep your cholesterol levels in check. High cholesterol levels can cause your arteries to clog and increase your risk of heart disease. Medications and lifestyle changes can lower your cholesterol levels.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Another risk factor for heart disease is being overweight or obese. This is because being overweight or having obesity is also a risk factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.
- Eat a healthy diet. Try incorporating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into your diet and limiting your intake of saturated fats, added sugars and salt. Consider the DASH diet.
- Exercise. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, make your heart stronger and improve your blood circulation. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day to get your heart pumping. If you are in a slump, check out this article to overcome barriers to exercising.
- Get enough sleep. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night is important for the prevention of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, which all can raise your risk for heart disease.
- Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. Because it is high in calories, alcohol can also contribute to weight gain. Women should not exceed one drink per day, while men should not exceed two drinks per day.
- Stop smoking. Smoking not only raises your blood pressure but also increases your risk for a stroke or heart attack. If you are looking to stop smoking, speak with your local pharmacist. He or she can be a great resource.
- Stress management. Severe stress can increase your blood pressure and, in turn, place you at risk for heart disease. That's why it's important to learn how to deal with stress properly. Instead of dealing with stress by drinking heavily or overeating, opt for meditation, exercise or listening to music. To learn five ways to reduce stress, read "Stress and Your Health."
- Diabetes management. It is important to have your blood sugar checked because high blood sugar can eventually damage your heart.
Talk to your health care provider about which risk factors apply to you and what steps you should take toward a healthier heart.