How to keep a healthy heart

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States (1) and the second leading cause of death in Canada (2). Approximately 18.2 million adults in the United States have coronary artery disease (the most common type of heart disease), and every year about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease (1).

One of the main reasons for these very high numbers is that people are following lifestyles that are harmful to their heart health and overall health too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle not only reduces your risk of heart disease but also lowers the risk of other complications including type 2 diabetes (3).

Understand your risks
First up, it is important to understand what risk factors you have and what you can do about them (4). Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol (our simple at-home test kits can detect this)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having prediabetes or diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history (may indicate a genetic risk factor)
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Older than 55 for females or older than 45 for males

Of course, it isn’t possible to change some of these risk factors, including age and family history. But simple lifestyle changes can be made to reduce other risk factors.

Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked
Visit your healthcare professional to measure your blood pressure. It is simple, painless, and very quick. Or purchase a self-measured blood pressure monitor (SMBP) to easily monitor your blood pressure at home (3).

Get a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. This can be through your doctor or simply use one of our at-home heart health tests for an accurate analysis.

Follow a heart-healthy diet
Focus on consuming lots of nutrient-rich foods to obtain plenty of vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients (4). Include these in your diet:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Good protein sources including fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes
  • Oils and foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil, nuts, salmon, avocadoes, tofu)

And try to limit your intake of salt, saturated and trans fats, and sugar. This means less:

  • Added salt (use herbs and spices instead for additional flavoring)
  • Premade sauces, mixes, and instant pouches (they tend to have added salt)
  • Fatty meats (opt for leaner, lower-fat meats instead)
  • Full-fat dairy (switch for lower-fat options)
  • Foods with partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), such as microwave popcorn, margarine, coffee creamers
  • Sugary foods – swap those sweetened drinks for some water!

Try to keep a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of heart disease, as well as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and certain cancers (4). Aim to keep a weight that is within the “healthy weight” body mass index (BMI) range of 18.5 to 24.9. To maintain a healthy weight, it is important to have good nutrition, control your calorie intake, and obtain adequate physical activity on a routine basis.

Manage your stress levels
Stress, particularly long-term, can contribute to increased blood pressure (4). In addition, for many people, the usual response to stress is to do something unhealthy, like overeat, smoke lots, or consume more alcohol (5).

Healthy ways to reduce and control your stress include:

  • Consulting a professional counselor
  • Meditation
  • Physical activity
  • Stress management programs
  • Relaxation techniques

Abstain from smoking
Smoking contributes to a multitude of health problems, including as a major contributor to heart disease.

The chemicals in cigarettes can cause the cells lining the blood vessels to swell and become inflamed, narrowing the blood vessels. This contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which occur when fat and cholesterol build-up. These cigarette chemicals also cause the blood to thicken and increase the risk of blood clots forming (6).

The more you smoke and the longer you continue to smoke, the higher your risk of heart disease. Quitting smoking immediately reduces your risk of heart disease. Consider joining a support group if you are having trouble quitting smoking on your own.

Keep physically active
Being physically active every day has numerous health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight, lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol, reducing stress, and lowering blood pressure. All of these are important for a healthy heart.

Manage diabetes
Diabetes and heart disease share many of the same risk factors. In the United States, at least 68% of people over 65 years with diabetes die from heart disease (5). Monitoring and effectively controlling your blood sugar levels is very important for diabetic people to reduce the risk of heart complications as well as other diabetic complications.

Limit alcohol intake
There is evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial for heart health. However, drinking too much alcohol contributes to many health issues, including obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and cardiovascular disease (5).

Men should not consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day, while women should limit their consumption to one drink per day (5).

Get enough sleep
Good quality sleep is vital for optimal health. It is important for healthy brain function, maintaining a healthy hormone balance, a good immune system, and healing and repairing heart and blood vessels (4).

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep a day (7). Consistently less sleep can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke (4).

Take medication as directed
If your doctor has prescribed medication to help control elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, it is important that the medication is taken as directed (3).

1. Heart Disease Facts. Heart Disease. CDC (Reviewed Sept 2020)

2. Heart Disease in Canada. Government of Canada (Modified Feb 2017)
3. 7 Strategies to Live a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). CDC. (Reviewed Feb 2021)  
4. Heart-Healthy Living. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NIH. 
5. Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention. Heart Attack. American Heart Association. (Reviewed July 2015) 
6. Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease. CDC Fact Sheet. 
7. Sleep Education. AASM.