Heart Disease Home > Preventing Heart Disease
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight, losing weight can help you in preventing heart disease. Carrying extra weight puts additional strain on your heart. Also, as people gain weight, their blood pressure and cholesterol level tends to rise. Losing weight can make high blood pressure and cholesterol drop back down.
Your healthcare providers can help you fashion a diet and exercise program that's right for you and your weight-loss goals. To lose weight, a low-fat, low-cholesterol, and low-salt diet is usually recommended, along with an exercise program.
(Click BMI Calculator or BMI Chart to find your healthy weight. You can also visit Obesity and Heart Disease or Weight and Heart Disease for more information.)
Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
In order to reduce the chances for heart disease, you should follow a heart-healthy diet. This means a diet that's low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber. It doesn't mean that you can never have pizza or ice cream again. Experts point out that a heart-healthy diet should be the routine. That way, when you have high-fat food every now and then, you're still on track. Making a high-fat diet the routine is asking for trouble.
Remember that a heart-healthy diet is fine for the whole family, including children from the age of two to four onward. Children under two years of age should NOT follow the heart-healthy diet -- they need more fat to provide enough calories for growth and development.
A heart-healthy diet includes the following:
- Eight to 10 percent of the day's total calories from saturated fat.
- 30 percent or less of the day's total calories from fat.
- Less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day.
- A sodium intake of 2,400 milligrams a day.
- Just enough calories to achieve or maintain a healthy weight and reduce your blood cholesterol level. (Ask your doctor or registered dietitian what is a reasonable calorie level for you.)
Control Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is another risk factor for heart disease. About 50 million American adults have high blood pressure. The top number of a blood pressure reading, called the systolic pressure, represents the force of blood in the arteries as the heart beats. The bottom number, called diastolic pressure, is the force of blood in the arteries as the heart relaxes between beats. High blood pressure makes the heart work extra hard and hardens artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or higher is considered high. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) set a "prehypertension" level for any reading above 120/80 mmHg.
People with high blood pressure often have no high blood pressure symptoms, so have your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years. If you have high blood pressure, your healthcare provider may suggest you make some lifestyle changes, such as eating less salt (see DASH Diet) and exercising more. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe blood pressure medicine.