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How to Prevent Heart Disease: 9 Lifestyle Changes That Lower Risk

Written by 
Angela Myers
Reviewed by 
Rene Roberts, MD

Article at a glance

  • Heart disease is an umbrella term for the many conditions that affect either the heart structure or coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. 
  • The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and the risk increases as we age. 
  • Many cases of heart disease are preventable with specific lifestyle changes. 

Since the 1950s, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States. This overarching category includes life-threatening conditions like heart attacks and heart failure. 

While prevalent, heart disease can be prevented in many cases. Recent research suggests up to 90% of heart disease is related to specific, controllable lifestyle factors. In this article, we share nine habits and lifestyle changes that help prevent heart disease. 

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella term for many different conditions involving the heart. Typically heart disease falls into two categories: congenital heart defects (problems with the heart’s structure that are present at birth) and coronary artery disease (the more common and preventable of the two). 

Our arteries are responsible for transporting blood to the body. Over time, they can harden due to the buildup of cholesterol and other materials. If too little blood flows through the arteries, the heart can’t get enough oxygen to function properly. 

This can lead to multiple conditions, including:

  • Heart attack: a condition where heart muscles stop functioning due to a lack of blood
  • Heart failure: a condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands for oxygen
  • Angina: chest pain from the lack of bloodflow
  • Arrhythmia: a rhythmic heartbeat problem 
  • Atrial fibrillation: the most common type of arrhythmia that occurs when the heart’s upper and lower chambers don’t work together

It’s important to note that other types of heart disease can occur that affect either the heart muscles or blood valves, although they are much less common.

Symptoms of heart disease vary greatly, depending on the condition. Sometimes, someone doesn’t know they have heart disease until they experience a heart attack or other life-threatening complication. 

Heart Disease Risk Factors

While the hardening of arteries happens naturally as we age, other risk factors can put someone at a higher risk of coronary heart disease: 

  • Age: the prevalence of heart disease increases with age
  • Genetics: certain genes and a family history of heart disease have been linked to higher risk.
  • Lifestyle: habits like excessive drinking or smoking can increase someone’s risk while lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity and maintaining good sleep health decrease risk.
  • Related health conditions: these include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, inflammatory diseases, chronic kidney issues, sleep apenea, and metabolic syndrome. 
  • Previous heart diseases: if someone already had a previous heart condition or a stroke, they are at a higher risk of developing more conditions. 

Some risk factors are controllable while others, like genetics and aging, are not. Fortunately, recent research suggests the factors an individual can control are the highest risk factors. In fact, up to 90% of heart disease may be preventable with specific lifestyle changes. 

9 Tips For Heart Disease Prevention

#1 Maintain a Healthy Weight

Increased body fat is a major risk factor for heart disease. There are many reasons for this, including how being overweight or obese increases one’s chance of diabetes, high cholesterol, and other health conditions that clog arteries. Independent of other conditions, research suggests having a higher body mass index (BMI), a sedentary lifestyle, and extra weight around the waist are risk factors for heart disease. 

Generally, the main route to losing weight is by making lifestyle changes to diet and exercise. However, for some, providers may recommend medical interventions such as dieting pills or liposuction. 

Note: To calculate BMI, use this tool from the CDC. If concerned about BMI or weight, consult with a healthcare provider before starting a weight loss program. 

Exercise Often

Physical movement is one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight, but this doesn’t mean marathon training is required. Small, manageable movements and exercise help prevent heart disease. One study suggests walking eleven minutes more each day reduces one’s risk. 

Besides walking, other exercises that prevent heart disease include:

  • Tai chi
  • Stretching
  • Gardening
  • Strength training
  • Swimming or water aerobics 

Note: For more information about the importance of physical activity and how to incorporate fitness into your everyday routine, visit this source.

#2 Adopt a Heart-Healthy Diet 

Someone’s diet heavily influences their body weight and heart health. The right foods also reduce other heart disease risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood cholesterol. In general, red and processed meats, overly salty foods, and foods high in cholesterol do not promote heart health while healthy foods do. 

More specifically, heart-healthy eating includes:

  • Leafy greens, carrots, and other vegetables
  • Trout, tuna, and salmon 
  • Apples, bananas, oranges, and other fruits
  • Lean meats like chicken and turkey
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains like quinoa
  • Avocados
  • Healthy oils, such as olive oil or sunflower oil

To avoid cardiovascular disease, it’s also best to eat healthy fats, like avocado, instead of saturated fat or trans fat. Saturated and trans fats include bacon, french fries, and many other highly processed foods. Other eating habits include buying fresh fruit and produce, low-fat dairy products, and nutrient-rich foods. For those who want a more regimented plan, the Mediterranean Diet is a good place to start.

Note: For more information on heart-healthy eating, visit this source.

#3 Manage Stress

When we think of heart attack triggers, stress often comes to mind. While extreme stress or an anxiety-inducing event can lead to a heart attack, prolonged chronic stress also impacts heart health. 

Stress can quicken someone’s heartbeat and raise blood pressure. Sometimes, people also turn to coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy for the heart, such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or alcohol consumption.

To manage stress and lower blood pressure in a heart-healthy way, try meditation, exercise, breathing techniques, or journaling.

#4 Maintain a Good Sleep Schedule

Sleeping too much or too little is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Generally, it’s recommended to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, as that range lowers one’s risk for a variety of conditions, including heart disease. 

To improve sleep hygiene, try these eight tips for better sleep.

#5 Stop Smoking

Smokers are at a higher risk for heart disease than nonsmokers. A 2022 study compared older adults who smoked and those who didn’t. The smoking group had a higher risk of heart disease and failure than those who didn’t smoke. 

However, quitting isn’t easy. Many smokers experience irritability, weight gain, and stress when quitting. To help, check out these tips from the CDC or call 1–800-QUIT-NOW (1–800-784‑8669) for support. Not to mention, it’s important to consult with your provider when beginning your quitting journey so they can help you along the way.

#6 Limit Alcohol 

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause strokes and peripheral artery disease. It is also commonly linked to other heart conditions, though more research is needed to confirm causation.

Too much alcohol produces irregular heartbeats and increases triglycerides, fat in the blood that can clog arteries. 

Limit alcohol consumption as much as possible and follow the U.S. dietary guidelines for alcohol (one drink per day for women and two per day for men). One drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of spirits

For more on healthy drinking habits, check out the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for 2020–2025

#7 Pay Attention to Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

High blood pressure and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol can clog the arteries while high blood pressure causes the blood to flow too quickly to and from your heart. 

While these two cause separate reactions in the body, both can be managed with similar steps:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Lower stress
  • Exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night

A medical provider should check blood pressure at least once every two years and cholesterol once every four to six years. Typically, these screenings are done alongside others in a physical exam. If levels are high, a doctor will provide medications and a treatment plan.

#8 Manage Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, or an inability to move glucose into cells. This causes a glucose build-up in the bloodstream, creating sugar spikes and other health problems. 

The glucose buildup and sugar spikes can clog and damage the heart and blood vessels, which often causes heart disease. 30% of those with type 2 diabetes develop a heart condition in their lifetime, according to the American Heart Foundation

To manage diabetes, test blood sugar often, live an active lifestyle, and eat a healthy diet for type 2 diabetes. Those with diabetes should also check in with their doctor regularly and follow any recommendations they make. 

#9 Take Medications as Prescribed

To prevent heart disease, take medications as prescribed. Prescriptions for certain conditions, including diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol, lower one’s risk for heart disease when taken properly and consistently. 

Note: If struggling to take medication consistently, explore these seven ways to stick to a medication schedule


How can I strengthen my heart?

Lifestyle and heart health are closely linked. To live a heart-healthy life, move your body daily, add more lean meat, vegetables, and fruits to your diet, and manage stress. Controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes has also been closely linked to a stronger heart.

Can heart disease be cured?

As of now, there is no cure for heart disease. However, by living a heart-healthy lifestyle, those with heart disease can manage symptoms and reduce their risk for a heart attack. These lifestyle changes include maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, not smoking, and managing stress.

What foods prevent heart disease?

Leafy greens, carrots, fruits, lean meats, and certain types of fish have all been linked to better heart health. While it’s important to eat a diet with plenty of these food groups, this habit should be combined with others that prevent heart disease, such as managing stress, physical movement, and managing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

At what age does heart disease start?

Heart disease can impact anyone at any age, but typically, those over 65 are more likely to experience it. Aging weakens arteries and causes other changes in the heart that increase the risk of conditions like heart attack or heart failure.


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