UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

Know and Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk

It is important that you know your personal risk for heart disease. Every risk factor counts. If you have even one risk factor, you are much more likely to develop heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for developing heart disease. You can take action to control many of your risk factors. Research shows that women can reduce their risk by 82 percent by leading a healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat for health.  Eating a heart healthy diet can greatly improve the condition of your heart. Dietary guidelines tell us to choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat; choose a variety of grains, especially whole grains, choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily; choose and prepare foods with less salt; drink alcoholic beverages in moderation if you drink.
  • Blood pressure and the DASH diet.  If you have high blood pressure or high normal blood pressure, you can lower it by eating according to the DASH diet plan. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and low fat dairy products. The focus of the diet is eating no more than 2400mg of sodium a day, with 1500mg/day even better. If you follow the DASH diet and cut down on sodium, you will have even better blood pressure benefits.
  • High cholesterol.  Cholesterol is lowered through lifestyle changes that include exercise, weight control, and a special eating plan. The eating plan calls for less than seven percent of your day's calories from saturated fat, less than 200mg a day of cholesterol, and enough calories to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise.  A very powerful way to keep your heart healthy is to include exercise in your daily routine. Your heart receives benefit from as little as 30 minutes of moderate activity most, preferably all days of the week. Moderate activity includes brisk walking, gardening, or bike riding. If needed, you can break up your exercise sessions to as little as 10 minutes at a time, as long as you total of 30 minutes a day.
  • Weight Loss.  If you are overweight, losing weight can directly reduce your risk of heart disease. Even small amounts of weight loss will have a positive impact. At the very least, try to avoid gaining extra weight. There are no quick fixes to weight loss, You must eat a healthy, lower-calorie diet and get regular exercise to have the most success. Your goal should be to lose a half to two pounds a week.
  • Stop smoking.  One the best things you can do for your heart health is to stop smoking. There is nothing easy about this, but with a plan of action, you can do it. Start to become aware of your personal "triggers" to smoking and replace them with new activities. Eating healthy and starting an exercise program can also help. Do not be afraid to use quit aids, either over the counter or prescription or group or individual counseling to help you through this.