How to Prevent Heart Disease

10 Min Read

Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease multiple ailments that affect the coronary arteries and the blood vessels of the heart, the brain, and extremities. Of all the chronic diseases that affect the health of Americans, these disorders have the greatest impact.

Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the most life threatening of these ailments. In most people, the underlying cause of CAD is atherosclerosis; a narrowing of the arteries caused by the formation of plaques a mixture of fatty substances, cholesterol, and cellular elements. Atherosclerosis occurs gradually over many years. Eventually, the plaque may accumulate to the point at which it begins to obstruct the flow of blood, limiting the amount of blood and oxygen reaching that part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery. If the obstruction becomes so large that it completely blocks a coronary artery, or if it promotes the formation of a blood clot in the artery, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen, resulting in a heart attack, or myocardial infarction.

The myth that a heart attack is something that happens only to men especially stressed out business executives is on its way to oblivion. Although women under age 50 suffer from CAD far less than men, after 50 they begin to develop the disease at an increasing rate. By the time they reach 60, the rate is the same as for men at age 50. At age 65 many women die of heart disease as of cancer, and after age 75 heart diseases is the chief killer of women.

All told, CAD alone accounts for more than 450,000 deaths annually. (By comparison, deaths from all forms of cancer total 560,000.)

The good news: scientists now know far more about the major risk factors for CAD than for most other diseases. A risk factor increases the likelihood of developing CAD; it doesn’t assure that you will develop it, or does its absence assures that you won’t get an attack. Some of these like getting older, being a man, or having a family history of heart attack you can’t do anything about. But you can modify, control, or treat most risk factors to reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Many of the wellness strategies discussed will have a heart-protective benefit. Listed below is a summary of nine steps that have been shown to help modify the risk factors for CAD in healthy people. (Each of these steps is covered in detail elsewhere.)

If you smoke, quit

This is perhaps the single most effective step you can take. Anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of all CAD deaths in the United States are directly attributable to smoking. It more than doubles your chance of eventually having a heart attack and increases the chance of dying from it by 70 percent; it is also the leading cause of sudden cardiac death. The good news: quitting smoking rapidly decreases the CAD risk; within 5-10 years of quitting, your chances of heart attack declines to a level close to that of people who never smoked nevertheless how long you have smoked.

Eat right


Base your diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat or low-fat dairy products. Eat fish twice a week, and consume only small portions of trimmed, low-fat cuts of meat and poultry. Keep animal fats to a minimum. Eat a small amount of nuts a few times a week. Replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (for example, use canola oil and/or olive oil instead of butter). All these dietary measures play an important part in several of the other measures like controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, as well as body weight.

Stay active

Exercise protects against CAD by helping the heart to work effectively, decreasing blood pressure, raising good cholesterol, decreasing the chances of blood to clots, curbing stress, assisting the body to use insulin, and helping people maintain healthy body weight.

Inactive people who start to do exercise frequently helps to reduce the chances of a heart attack by 35 to 55%. Low-intensity actions, like walking or gardening, if done frequently and for long term, helps to decrease the chance of heart attack.

Maintain a healthy weight

Roughly one in two American adults can be considered overweight or obese (weighing nearly 20 % above the recommended weight according to their height), which increases the chance for CAD at a specified age. Apart from that obesity also increases the chances for high blood cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, which further deteriorate the risk for CAD.

Know your blood cholesterol levels and keep them under control

For each 1 % decreasing in high blood cholesterol (above 200 milligrams per deciliter), there is a 2 to 3 % drop in the chance of heart attack. Often, cholesterol levels can be controlled through diet and exercise. Some people require cholesterol lowering medication.

Avoid or control hypertension

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack. For every one point reduction in diastolic blood pressure that is above 80 mm Hg, there is a 2 to 3 percent decline in the risk of heart attack. If you can reduce your blood pressure by making the appropriate lifestyle changes, the coronary benefits are likely to be particularly great. You may also benefit from medication.

Avoid or control diabetes


Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent), which afflicts more than 16 million Americans, is an important risk factor for both CAD and hypertension. Diabetic men have two to three times the risk of having coronary heart disease than those without diabetes. Weight control and exercise can improve the utilization of blood sugar and prevent or slow down the onset of diabetes and reduce the incidence of heart disease.

Consider a drink a day

There is a growing consensus that light to moderate alcohol consumption that is, two drinks or less a day for a man, one drink for a woman (a drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits) can prevent heart attacks. Alcohol consumption more than that can increase the risk of cirrhosis, cancer, heart attack as well as stroke and accidents.

Consider low dose aspirin

Recommended routine a baby aspirin (81 milligrams) every day or half a regular aspirin (160 milligrams) very other day helps to reduce the chances of heart attack by about one third by decreasing the ability of platelets to stick together and form a clot. It is recommended that if you have higher chances of CAD. Aspirin have several drawbacks and isn’t appropriate for everybody, so make sure to consult with medical doctor before using it.

A note on vitamin supplements

There is some evidence suggesting that the antioxidant vitamins C and E help reduce the risk of CAD. Vitamin C helps tiny blood vessels dilate, which may lower heart attack risk. And vitamin E reduces the tendency of blood to clot (though in a different way from aspirin so you may benefit from taking both, though always discuss aspirin therapy with your doctor before starting it). Vitamin E may also protect the heart by decreasing the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Because most people do not obtain the amounts of C and E needed for a maximum heart protective benefit through diet alone, especially in the case of vitamin E, we recommend you consider taking supplements: 250 to 500 milligrams of vitamin C and 200 to 400 IU of vitamin E.

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