Alternative medicine (2)
- Herbal supplements may not mix with heart medicines
- Chelation therapy for heart disease
- Chagas disease
- Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease
- Myocardial ischemia
Lifestyle and home remedies (7)
- Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
- Menus for heart-healthy eating: Cut the fat and salt
- Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
- see all in Lifestyle and home remedies
- Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?
- Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan
- Couponing and other frugal food shopping tips
- see all in Prevention
Risk factors (6)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
- see all in Risk factors
Tests and diagnosis (5)
- Blood tests for heart disease
- C-reactive protein test
- Cardiac catheterization
- see all in Tests and diagnosis
Treatments and drugs (5)
- Daily aspirin therapy: Understand the benefits and risks
- Angina treatment: Stents, drugs, lifestyle changes — What's best?
- see all in Treatments and drugs
5 medication-free strategies to help prevent heart disease
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can help protect your heart. Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, which can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels.
Major sources of saturated fat include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Coconut and palm oils
Sources of trans fat include:
- Deep-fried fast foods
- Bakery products
- Packaged snack foods
Look at the label for the term "partially hydrogenated" to avoid trans fat.
Heart-healthy eating isn't all about cutting back, though. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of omega-3s. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be found in supplements.
Following a heart-healthy diet also means drinking alcohol only in moderation — no more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women. At that moderate level, alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart. More than that becomes a health hazard.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
As you put on weight in adulthood, your weight gain is mostly fat rather than muscle. This excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:
- Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm)
- Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm)
Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 10 percent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.
5. Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
- Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren't ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
- Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20. You may need more frequent testing if your numbers aren't optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of heart disease.
- Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years.
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- Your guide to lowering blood pressure with DASH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf. Accessed Oct. 18, 2010.
- Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular disease. Rockville, Md.: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://www.ahrq.gov/downloads/pub/evidence/pdf/o3cardio/o3cardio.pdf. Accessed Oct. 18, 2010.
- Alcohol, wine and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4422. Accessed Oct. 18, 2010.
- Owen CG, et al. Is body mass index before middle age related to coronary heart disease risk in later life? Evidence from observational studies. International Journal of Obesity. 2009;33:866.
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- Screening for lipid disorders in adults: Recommendation statement. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf08/lipid/lipidrs.htm. Accessed Oct. 18, 2010.
- Kahn R, et al. Age at initiation and frequency of screening to detect type 2 diabetes: A cost-effectiveness analysis. The Lancet. 2010;375:1365.