Exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and managing your blood pressure are some of the ways to help you prevent heart disease.

Heart disease refers to a group of conditions that affect your heart, some of which include:

  • coronary heart disease
  • heart failure
  • arrhythmia

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2021, it was responsible for 1 in 5 deaths.

Two types of risk factors could increase your risk of heart disease.

Non-modifiable risk factors are those you can’t control, such as genetics.

On the other hand, modifiable risk factors are those you can control and that may play the biggest role in heart disease. For example, nearly half of the American population has at least one heart disease risk factor, including:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

Keep reading to learn more about ways to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. Yet, it’s the most preventable cause of the condition, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Smoking causes a buildup of plaque, a fatty substance, in the arteries. These are blood vessels responsible for circulating oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

If too much plaque builds up in your arteries they could eventually harden, leading to complications like heart attack and atherosclerosis.

Smoking may also increase your risk of heart disease in several other ways, such as:

  • damaging your organs
  • reducing the amount of good cholesterol
  • increasing blood pressure

Research suggests that smoking cessation can greatly help reduce your risk of heart disease. The benefits of quitting smoking are also quite sudden, according to the CDC.

If you smoke, speak with a healthcare professional about cessation. They could help you develop a smoking cessation program and build a support network.

Diet is a modifiable factor that may play a key role in preventing heart disease, even if you have a family history or genetic predisposition.

Below is a table of foods to eat and foods to avoid to help prevent heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA):

Foods to eatFoods to avoid
• fruits and vegetables
• whole grains
• plant-based proteins
• fish and seafood
• low fat or fat free dairy products
• some lean meats, such as chicken and unprocessed meat
• liquid plant oils, such as olive oil
• processed foods
• added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages
• unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats
• alcohol
• high levels of sodium

Some diet plans may also help reduce your risk of heart disease and make food planning easier, such as:

What these diets have in common is focusing on eating nutrient-dense, whole, and minimally processed foods. They’re also low in cholesterol, which is another primary risk factor for heart disease.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you need help with your diet. They could help develop an eating plan that’s tasty, easy to follow, and right for you.

Exercising and maintaining a healthy-for-you weight can lower your risk of heart disease in several ways, including:

  • strengthening your heart muscles
  • lowering your blood pressure
  • improving leptin and insulin sensitivity
  • lowering plasma-lipid levels
  • decreasing the thickness of your blood
  • relaxing your blood vessels

Exercise could also help you lower your cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy weight, which is important for preventing heart disease. Having overweight or obesity are two key factors in developing heart disease.

The AHA recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise per week.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you’re not sure how to get started with exercise. Even light physical activity, such as walking and gardening, has more benefits than staying sedentary.

According to the CDC, your risk of developing heart disease increases significantly if you have diabetes.

Diabetes is a health condition marked by high blood sugar levels. If left unmanaged, diabetes may impact your blood vessels and your heart muscles, which increases your risk of heart disease.

It’s important to follow your diabetes management plan, which may include taking medications and regularly monitoring your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Other ways to help manage diabetes to prevent heart disease include:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • exercising for at least 150 minutes each week
  • getting regular checkups from your doctor

High blood pressure, or hypertension, may increase your risk of heart disease by increasing how hard your heart works to function. This could cause functional and structural changes.

It’s important to work with a healthcare professional if you have hypertension.

Following your treatment plan, which may include several different types of medication, is the best way to lower your blood pressure.

Other lifestyle and dietary changes that may help include:

  • eating a well-balanced, low fat diet
  • exercising and managing your weight
  • lowering stress levels
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • limiting salt intake
  • limiting alcohol consumption

Research suggests that high amounts of stress over long periods may be associated with heart disease.

Previous studies suggested that stress was associated with heart disease through other risk factors, such as hypertension, poor diet, and body fat.

However, a 2020 review suggests that stress may directly impact heart disease through several pathways, such as:

  • brain
  • immune system
  • automatic and central nervous systems
  • vascular system

Reducing stress may help lower your risk for heart disease. Some ways to help you reduce stress may include:

How can I make my heart strong?

Some ways to naturally strengthen your heart include exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and managing your stress levels.

What are 7 ways you can control heart health?

Seven tips to help you control heart health include quitting smoking if you smoke, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising for at least 150 minutes each week, and managing underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and stress.

What causes heart disease?

According to the CDC, the biggest risk factors for heart disease are smoking and having underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol levels.

Can heart disease be cured?

There’s no cure for heart disease. However, a treatment plan could help you manage your symptoms, prevent disease progression, and help improve your quality of life.

Heart disease refers to a group of diseases that may affect your heart. Managing risk factors is key to preventing heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you suspect you may have heart disease. They could help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.