Tips to Take Charge of Heart Health

By Dr. David Gregg, chief medical officer at StayWell

You only have one heart—and you want to keep it at its healthiest. While you can’t do anything about some heart disease risks—like age, sex, or family history—you can make small changes to daily habits to lower your risk.
Follow these seven tips to improve heart health.
Quit smoking for good
Kick the smoking habit. It's a major cause of heart disease. Ask your doctor about medications, counseling, and programs—like Freedom From Smoking®—that can help you quit. As time passes, you’ll gradually have the same risk as a nonsmoker.
Move it and lose it
Just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition to managing your weight. Take a walk with a friend, play tag with your kids, put on your favorite song and dance—it all adds up.
Watch the waist line

You’ve probably heard of body mass index (BMI), which tells you if you’re at a healthy weight for your height. But watch the waist, too. People with extra body fat, especially “visceral” fat around their middle, are more likely to develop heart disease or diabetes. Measure your waist at the top of your hip bones. If it’s over 35 inches (women) or over 40 inches (men), whittle your middle with diet and exercise.

Create a heart-healthy food plate

Choose fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and fish (try to eat salmon, tuna, or mackerel at least twice a week), and whole grains. Cut down on fats, salt, and alcohol—limit salt to about one teaspoon per day, and limit daily alcohol drinks to one per day for women and two per day for men.

Spend more time at the "om"

Calm your stress through mind-body activities like meditation. It can support your heart in many ways, from helping you better cope with stress to lowering your blood pressure. And it’s always a better stress reducer than turning to unhealthy habits like smoking or overeating.

Know your numbers

Screening tests provide a better picture of heart health. This is a recommended schedule for initial tests and for repeated tests if prior levels were normal. You may also be able to complete some of these tests at your workplace.

  • Blood pressure: Check at each regular health care visit, or at least once every two years starting at age 20
  • HDL cholesterol: Check at least every five years starting at age 20
  • Triglycerides: Check at least every five years starting at age 20
  • Waist circumference: Measure at each regular health care visit, along with BMI
  • Fasting blood glucose: Check at every three years starting at age 45

Don't let the unhealthy numbers add up

Each of these risk factors is important on its own. But if three or more of these risk factors have numbers that are out of range, pay even closer attention to them. You may meet the definition for metabolic syndrome, which significantly raises your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

If you’re doing everything you can to follow healthier behaviors and lower your risk, but there’s still room to improve, talk to your doctor about medications that might help.

You don’t have to tackle all seven of these tips at once. Even if you can improve in one or two areas, you’re headed in the right direction. Of course, the more tips you follow, the better for your heart.