Eating a well-balanced diet low in added sugar and salt is key to preventing heart disease and other health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Incorporating vegetables and fruits, whole grains and moderate exercise into a daily routine can also support heart health.
Secondary prevention involves taking steps to reduce a person’s risk of a second heart attack or stroke, and halt the progression of existing heart disease. This includes taking medications prescribed by doctors, losing weight, quitting smoking and getting regular physical activity.
1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide heart-healthy fiber, which can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Leafy greens are high in nitrates and vitamin K, which help reduce blood clots, and tomatoes provide the protective antioxidant lycopene. Try to eat three or more servings per day.
Avoid processed meats, fried foods and salty sauces. Read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient lists on food labels, and choose foods low in sodium (salt). Enjoy an occasional treat like a candy bar or handful of chips, as long as they don’t become the norm.
2. Eat Less Meat
Eating less meat can help reduce cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers blood fats known as triglycerides. Try adding fish, poultry or plant-based proteins to your diet instead of red meats like pork and beef.
It also helps to limit your consumption of processed meats. You can increase your protein intake by eating beans (reduced salt), legumes (like peas and lentils), tofu, soy products and nuts.
3. Eat More Whole Grains
Replacing refined grains with whole grain foods can help to improve blood sugar control and lower cholesterol levels. It may also help to reduce blood pressure over time.
Studies show that people who eat whole grains have lower rates of heart disease and mortality. However, these observational studies are limited by social desirability bias, and dietary patterns often play a larger role in heart disease risk factors than isolated markers like cholesterol.
In addition, whole grains are linked to lower rates of systemic inflammation and improved gut microbiota. Look for foods with the “Whole Grain” stamp to make sure you’re getting enough whole grains in your diet.
4. Eat More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There’s consistent scientific evidence that eating two servings of fish per week (preferably oily) reduces your risk for heart disease. This includes fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and seafood such as shrimp and oysters.
The omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have specific heart-health benefits including lowering blood triglyceride levels. You can also get these nutrients by eating a diet rich in lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products and nontropical vegetable oils.
5. Drink More Tea
Many people drink tea for its flavor or to get a boost in energy, but it has also been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. It can help reduce cholesterol, triglyceride levels and blood pressure as well as increase metabolism and aid weight loss.
You can decrease your risk of developing heart disease by making smart food and lifestyle choices at any age. Talk to your doctor about how to start making healthy changes and set realistic goals.
6. Get More Physical Activity
Getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise boosts your heart health. It lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, helps you manage your weight and reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes.
It also improves your ability to work out and can help you recover from a workout quicker. Plus, exercise can increase healthy cholesterol and lower unhealthy fats in the blood.
To get the most benefits, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity heart-pumping activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Add in two days of moderate-to-high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities as well.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise and robs your blood of oxygen. Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke also makes the lining of your blood vessels hard and stiff.
Quitting smoking reduces your risk of having a heart attack or needing a stent or bypass surgery. Your risks continue to drop over time and by 15 years after you quit, your risk is similar to that of someone who has never smoked.
Those who are successful in quitting usually set specific goals and stick to them. One helpful strategy is to write down all the reasons why you want to quit and keep it somewhere visible.
8. Drink More Water
Drinking enough water is one of the most important things you can do for your heart health. When you’re hydrated, your heart is better able to pump blood, which can help prevent stroke, high blood pressure and other heart problems.
For primary prevention, focus on eating more whole foods, especially leafy green vegetables and beans. Avoid unhealthy fats, sodium, processed meats and sugary beverages. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and reducing stress are also key factors in heart health.