Heart­breaks are painful, but did you know that heart dis­ease is the lead­ing cause of death in the Unit­ed States, with more than 630,000 peo­ple dying from the con­di­tion each year. This equates to one in four deaths attrib­uted to this awful dis­ease. The most com­mon form of heart dis­ease is coro­nary artery dis­ease (CAD), which is what can cause heart attacks.

CAD is caused when a sub­stance called plaque builds up in a person’s arter­ies. As the buildup grows, the open­ing of the arter­ies grad­u­al­ly clos­es until blood flow is blocked and the patient expe­ri­ences a heart attack. While these sta­tis­tics are sober­ing, there are sev­er­al ways we can pre­vent heart dis­ease. Know­ing the “why” about this dis­ease can aid in pre­ven­tion. First, let’s learn about the big three risk fac­tors of heart disease:

High Blood Pressure

High blood pres­sure (HBP) is the force of blood push­ing against blood ves­sel walls. This is what your nurse checks when she puts the blood pres­sure cuff on your arm and pumps air into it at your check-up. She is lis­ten­ing for the pres­sure when your heart beats and the pres­sure for when your heart is at rest between beats. High blood pres­sure usu­al­ly has no signs or symp­toms so it is very impor­tant to keep your annu­al phys­i­cal appoint­ments with your doc­tor and to fol­low her rec­om­men­da­tions if she diag­noses you with HBP.

High Cho­les­terol

High cho­les­terol is when you devel­op fat­ty deposits in your blood ves­sels. These deposits can lead to nar­row ves­sels and increase your chance of a heart attack. It is deter­mined through blood tests. While high cho­les­terol can be inher­it­ed, it can also be pre­vent­ed through med­ica­tion, diet and exercise.

Smok­ing

Smok­ers are four times more like­ly to devel­op heart dis­ease than non-smok­ers. The nico­tine in smoke reduces your blood flow, rais­es your blood pres­sure, and speeds up your heart. Quit­ting smok­ing will not reverse the dam­age done to your heart, but it great­ly reduces the dam­age going for­ward to your heart and arteries.

In addi­tion to the three key risk fac­tors, it’s impor­tant to explore what we can do to pre­vent it. Pre­ven­tion behav­iors can take you from the dan­ger zone of heart dis­ease and put you on the path to a healthy heart.

Heart Dis­ease Prevention

Healthy Diet

Accord­ing to the Mayo Clin­ic, sim­ple tips to pre­vent heart dis­ease by diet include tips like these:  con­trol­ling por­tion size, eat­ing more veg­eta­bles and fruits, select­ing whole grains, lim­it­ing unhealthy fats, choos­ing low-fat pro­tein, reduc­ing sodi­um intake, and lim­it­ing treats.

Healthy Weight

Being over­weight increas­es your risk for heart dis­ease. One mea­sure used to deter­mine if your weight is in a healthy range is body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can cal­cu­late your BMI at CDC’s Assess­ing Your Weight web­site. When in doubt, con­sult a physi­cian who can help in cal­cu­lat­ing whether your health is at risk due to weight.

Phys­i­cal Activity

Among the many ben­e­fits to get­ting enough phys­i­cal activ­i­ty can, it can help you main­tain a healthy weight and low­er your blood pres­sure, cho­les­terol, and sug­ar lev­els. From walk­ing, to swim­ming, to cycling, adding even mod­er­ate activ­i­ty to your rou­tine can have a great impact on your heart health. Just remem­ber, it’s always a good idea to check with your doc­tor before start­ing any new exer­cise regimen.

Quit Smok­ing

Smok­ing cig­a­rettes great­ly increas­es your risk for heart dis­ease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit­ting will low­er your risk for heart dis­ease. Your doc­tor can sug­gest ways to help you quit, and you can find many oth­er help­ful resources, includ­ing cre­at­ing a tai­lored plan to help you quit at SmokeFree.gov.

Lim­it Alcohol

There’s a good rea­son your doc­tor asks about rou­tine alco­hol con­sump­tion at each check-up. Drink­ing too much alco­hol can dras­ti­cal­ly raise blood pres­sure and binge drink­ing can increase heart rate. For heart health, the med­ical guide­lines state that men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one. Talk to your doc­tor if you aren’t sure whether or not you should drink alco­hol or how much you should drink for opti­mal heart health.

Check out these great resources to bet­ter edu­cate your­self and oth­ers on heart health:

Amer­i­can Heart Association—Healthy for Good

Amer­i­can Heart Month Toolkit

Heart Health Information

Strate­gies to Pre­vent Heart Disease