Skip to main content
To Your Health

Three surefire ways to reduce your risk of heart disease

Image of family eating together and image of heart healthy foods, fruit, whole grain foods, oatmeal, waffles. Image of building wooden blocks with wellness images of blood, stethoscope, first aid, bandage. University of Illinois Extension branding and logo

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Most of us know someone who has been touched, in some way, by heart disease. Sound a bit scary? It doesn’t have to be because heart disease can often be prevented by adopting simple lifestyle changes. First, we have to understand what puts a person at risk for developing heart disease.

There is really no one specific behavior or factor that increases your risk of developing heart disease. Rather, it’s a combination of risk factors. Risk factors are things that increase a person’s chance of developing a disease, such as heart disease. Some risk factors such as age, ethnicity, or genetics cannot be controlled. However, there are several factors we do have control over, and these are the ones we need to work on.

Consider for a minute your daily habits and lifestyle choices. Each of these habits and choices impacts your risk of developing heart disease. The good news - if any of these habits are unhealthy, they can be changed.

Take Steps to Prevent and Manage Your Risk

  1. Maintain a healthy weight and shed a few of those extra pounds. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing heart disease. Shedding a few pounds and losing as little as five to ten percent of your current weight can improve your cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, thus reducing your risk of heart disease.
  1. Be Active. Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for heart disease. Being physically active has many benefits. It will help maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve muscular function and strength, thereby reducing your risk for heart disease. 
  2. Move More. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. If you think this sounds like a lot, remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Breaking it down into more manageable time commitments will make it easier to achieve. Consider 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or break it down even further, 10 minutes three times a day!
  3. Eat Healthily. Healthy eating means different things to different people. However, diet plays a significant role in your risk of developing heart disease. What and how much you eat affects not only your body weight but also your blood pressure and blood glucose levels, all of which play a role in your risk of developing heart disease. 
  4. Eat Heart Healthy. 
    • Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are not only a good source of fiber, but they are also packed full of essential vitamins and minerals your body needs, such as potassium, vitamins A, C, and folate (folic acid). Best of all, they are generally low in calories, fat, and sodium!  
    • The amount of fruits and vegetables a person will need varies, depending on age, gender, and level of physical activity. For example, if someone required 2,000 calories/day, they should aim to consume at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables.
    • Now, if you think this sounds like too much, consider what a serving size is. Whether fresh, frozen, or cooked, a serving size for most fruits and vegetables is a half-cup. However, when it comes to leafy greens, one cup equals one serving. So what do nine servings look like? It simply will mean you need to consume 4½ cups per day, 2 cups of fruit, and 2½ cups of vegetables.  

Of course, there are many more ways you can eat heart-healthy, such as limiting processed foods, added sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, and the amount of salt in your diet.

Remember, a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight heart disease, so start adopting these simple lifestyle habits today!

SOURCE: Diane Reinhold, MPH, MS, RDN, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, University of Illinois Extension serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago Counties.

Want to read more, check out Walking the Line: A Journey of Wellness. This blog is intended to raise awareness and knowledge about health and wellness, inspire behavior change, share new skills, and validate that life is truly challenging. As we grow and learn together, it is my hope that each of us will look within ourselves and acknowledge our own personal choices and behaviors and how they contribute to our overall state of health and wellness. Please join me in this amazing adventure as we journey together, walking the line toward health and wellness.