The best way to prevent coronary artery disease (CAD) and a host of other conditions is to make significant lifestyle changes. Improve your diet. Live an active lifestyle. If you smoke, ask your healthcare provider to help you design a strategy to quit. The payoff will be a reduced risk of developing heart-related problems, includeing CAD. You'll also see the following benefits:

  • weight loss
  • leaner body
  • lower blood pressure
  • better mood and lower stress level
  • stronger bones and a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis
  • greater lung capacity and more endurance, so you can climb stairs, for example, without stopping to rest

Choose Activities You Can Enjoy

Does it require subjecting yourself to a life of weight training or marathon running ? In a word, no. Lifestyle change is not a punishment. If you don't like to run, try a dance class or playing an active sport you enjoy. If you don't care for yoga or jazzercise, choose the treadmill. Better yet, take a brisk walk around your local park or go for a run with your dog. If you don't have time to go to the gym but somehow you do find time for Jeopardy!, set up your exercise bike in front of the television, and make an exercise date with Alex Trebek. The point is to make meaningful changes that you can enjoy so you will stick with them.

Healthy Diet Changes

Pay attention to your diet because it affects your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Less LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood translates to less cholesterol building up in the arteries. Many other factors are involved, of course, but taking high cholesterol foods out of the equation adds up to a lower risk of CAD. When revamping your eating plan, consider the following:

The Good Stuff

  • Plant-based foods are naturally free of cholesterol.
  • High-fiber foods such as beans and whole grains are a great choice.
  • Nuts and olive oil also help you dial down your cholesterol counts.
  • Certain fish—such as salmon, sardines, and trout—contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

The Bad Stuff

  • Bad LDL cholesterol comes from meat and dairy products.
  • Limit your intake of the trans fats found in baked goods, including certain crackers.
  • Cut back on whole milk, sour cream, fatty cuts of meat, and other sources of saturated fat.
  • Play with spices, low-fat sauces, and condiments to keep flavor profiles interesting, but watch out for sodium in salad dressings, ready-made sauces, soups, and spice mixes.

Tips for Eating Better

Your diet should be low in fat and cholesterol and heavy on vegetables and whole grains. Here are some ways to make sure it is.

  • Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If you don't have time to prepare fresh veggies, buy them canned (look for low-sodium options) or frozen; it's better than skipping them.
  • Cut down on salt. Look for low-salt versions of the foods you enjoy, and add less salt to your food at the table.
  • Buy whole grains. Choose whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, and rice, and cook with whole grains like oatmeal and barley.
  • Drive past the drive-through. Cutting out fast food fries, burgers, breakfast sandwiches, donuts, and other food bombs is one of the easiest ways to reduce your intake of saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol.

Quit Smoking

Smoking makes it harder and less enjoyable to exercise or participate in sports. It spikes your blood pressure and increases the likelihood that a dangerous blood clot may form. And if you've already had coronary artery bypass surgery, continuing to smoke increases the risk that you'll require a second intervention. Remember, every time you try to quit and fail, your chance of succeeding the next time rises. If you haven't been able to quit on your own, talk to your doctor or visit the local community health center. Many states offer stop-smoking programs funded by tobacco company settlements, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of them. Check online to see if these free or low-cost resources are available in your state.

For more information on how to quit, visit the Smoking Cessation Learning Center.