Eight Steps to a Healthier Heart

January 23, 2009


There are many factors that increase the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease. Some, like having a close family member with heart disease, are beyond our control. But many risk factors boil down to individual habits and lifestyle choices that are well within our control. If you smoke, you’re doubling your heart disease risk. The same applies to those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Knowing your own risk factors may be worrisome, but it's a great reminder of how a few small changes in day-to-day living can move the odds significantly in your favor.


While there’s no such thing as a stress-free life, too much stress can take a heavy toll on our physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

While the direct connection between stress and heart disease remains unclear, stress increases blood pressure and elevates levels of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline to harmful levels. And stress often makes people engage in unhealthy habits like overeating, increased smoking, and cutting back on regular exercise.

Healthy exercise and nutrition habits help the mind and body handle stress better. Many people utilize meditation, massage or yoga to relax and de-stress. Your doctor can recommend a number of ways to help bring your stress down to lower, healthier levels.


There’s no greater risk factor for heart disease than being a smoker. If you’re still smoking, kicking the tobacco habit will dramatically cut your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals that harm the heart and circulatory system, raise the body’s blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood. No amount of smoking is safe; even those who smoke only occasionally have been shown to have a greater heart disease risk than people who never smoke.

Quitting smoking is by no means easy, but there are a number of resources available, including effective medications, support groups, and proven self-help techniques to boost your chances of long-term success. If you’re serious about quitting, your doctor can advise you on the best options for your individual situation.


There’s nothing good about being overweight or obese. When it comes to heart health, unhealthy excess weight is a key factor in the development of artery-clogging atherosclerosis. People with abdominal obesity are also at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes - three contributing factors for heart disease.


People with high blood pressure automatically qualify for high risk status for heart disease. High blood pressure is one of the most common elements among heart disease sufferers. Over the course of many years, high blood pressure inflames and damages the lining of blood vessels, with potentially catastrophic results.

Many factors can contribute to high blood pressure, including genetics, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. Healthy lifestyle changes go a long way in alleviating high blood pressure, and a number of medications are available to help in more serious cases.

Even people who appear healthy and aren’t overweight can have high blood pressure. Replacing high-fat snacks and deep-fried foods with fruits and vegetables is one of the smartest decisions you can make to get your blood pressure moving in the right direction.


Fast food, junk food, too much food. In today’s fast-paced world, it seems that too many of us spend far too little time thinking about the enormous harm we’re inflicting upon our health with our poor nutrition habits. But make no mistake: A poor diet significantly increases one’s likelihood of falling prey to heart disease.

Experts agree that heart-healthy eating means cutting down on foods heavy in saturated fats and trans-fats, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (five or more servings per day), choosing whole grains instead of processed foods, switching to low-fat protein rich foods such as fish and leaner meats, and choosing healthier cooking oils (instead of palm or coconut oil).

Studies have also shown that the fatty acid known as omega-3 may help protect against heart disease. Oily fish including salmon are a good omega-3 source, which is also available in supplement tablet form.

Eating healthy also means eating the right amount of food. The average adult should eat about 2,000 calories a day, with no more than 30% of that coming from fat. Paying more attention to food labels when you shop is an important step toward healthier eating.


Sedentary living kills! Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes four or five times a week) can dramatically lower one’s heart disease risk - and reduce your risk of many other serious illnesses, including cancer.

A healthy exercise habit improves blood flow and makes the heart stronger and more efficient. It’s also a great way to lose excess weight, reduce stress, improve one’s mood, and maintain healthy bones.

Even if you can’t manage four or five weekly workouts, any exercise is better than no exercise. Studies show that people who exercise just once or twice a week have a lower risk of developing heart disease than people who don’t exercise at all.

One reminder: Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.


This is one habit that requires very little effort and offers potentially immense benefits. Regular screenings are critical to finding potential health threats early, when treatment is more effective and less traumatic.

Regular blood pressure and cholesterol testing is an important part of a comprehensive heart disease prevention strategy, as blood pressure and cholesterol are key risk factors for heart disease.

While the typical adult should be tested about once every two years, people in higher risk groups such as those with a family history of heart disease, smokers, etc., should be screened more often.

More advanced heart screenings such as an exercise stress test may be recommended by your doctor depending on your age and individual health situation. No matter your age or health, talk to your doctor about a health screening schedule that’s right for you.
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