A healthy heart works to pump blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and essential nutrients to vital organs and muscles. When unhealthy, the heart needs to work much harder to do its job, leading to problems ranging from strain to heart failure.

Causes of Heart Disease

Coronary artery disease is the result of repeated insults to the arteries that deliver blood to the heart muscle. Cholesterol and plaque, in combination with other factors, can damage the arteries so badly that it becomes difficult for the heart to get oxygen.

Risk Factors

The rate at which plaque forms depends on several factors, including a person’s age, gender, diet, cholesterol levels, tobacco use, and overall general health. Those with a family history of high cholesterol may experience rapid plaque buildup despite otherwise healthy lifestyle choices.

Minimize Your Risk

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to minimize your risk of heart disease. These include:

  • Keeping your stress at low levels
  • Eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods
  • Staying in shape
  • Daily cardiovascular exercise
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure

Prevention

While there are certain risk factors that cannot be changed—such as age and family history—unhealthy habits, such as smoking, eating high levels of saturated fat, and a lack of exercise dramatically increase the risk for heart disease. By focusing on three main facets of heart disease prevention: a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, and smoking cessation, you can protect your heart and live a healthier life. 

Reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH