Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But you can do a lot to protect your heart and stay healthy.
Heart-healthy living involves understanding your risk, making choices, and taking steps to reduce your chances of getting heart disease, including coronary heart disease, the most common type. Coronary and other types of heart disease cause heart attacks, but by taking preventive measures, you can lower your risk of developing heart disease and also improve your overall health and well-being.
Learn more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle, our role in research and clinical trials to improve health, and where to find more information.
Understanding your risks
The first step toward heart health is understanding your risk of heart disease. Your risk depends on many factors, some of which are changeable and others that are not. Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. These risk factors may be different for each person.
Preventing heart disease starts with knowing what your risks factors are and what you can do to lower them.
Get Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Checked
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and your blood vessels and lead to plaque buildup.
Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, you will likely need to be checked more often. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked.
Your doctor will measure your blood pressure to see if it is higher than is recommended. The reading is made up of two numbers, with the systolic number above the diastolic number. These numbers are measures of pressure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Learn more about getting your blood pressure measured in this video.
Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other risk factors for heart disease.
If your blood pressure is high, your doctor will suggest lifestyle changes and may prescribe medicines. Learn more about high blood pressure. You can track your progress with our Tracking Your Numbers worksheet and bring it with you whenever you have your blood pressure taken.
Aim for a healthy diet
A healthy weight for adults is usually when the body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9. To figure out your BMI, use our online BMI calculator and compare your BMI with the following table. You can also download the BMI calculator app for iPhoneexternal link and Androidexternal link.
Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about what BMI is right for you. Talk to your child’s doctor to determine whether your growing child has a healthy weight, because his or her BMI should be compared to growth charts specific for your child’s age and sex. Following a heart-healthy eating plan and being physically active are some ways to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. For more information, visit Aim for a Healthy Weight.
Research suggests that an emotionally upsetting event, particularly one involving anger, can serve as a trigger for a heart attack or angina in some people. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. Some of the ways people cope with stress—drinking alcohol, using other substances, smoking, or overeating—are not healthy ways to manage stress.
Learning how to manage stress and cope with problems can improve your mental and physical health. Consider healthy stress-reducing activities such as:
- Talking to a professional counselor
- Participating in a stress management program
- Practicing meditation
- Being physically active
- Trying relaxation techniques
- Talking with friends, family, and community or religious support systems
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can raise your risk of heart disease and heart attack and worsen other heart disease risk factors. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. Learn more in our video.
If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.
Get Enough Good-Quality Sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. Not getting enough sleep or good-quality sleep over time can raise your risk for chronic health problems. The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. This table reflects recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommendations that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has endorsed.
|Recommended Hours of Sleep a Day
|Babies 4-12 months
|12-16 (including naps)
|Children 1-2 years
|11-14 (including naps)
|Children 3-5 years
|10-13 (including naps)
|Children 6-12 years
|Teens 13-18 years
|Adults 18 years or older