Protect your heart

5 Ways to Protect Your Heart

Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? In 2020, 690,882 deaths were attributed to heart disease, a 4.8% increase from 2019, ranking as the largest increase in heart disease deaths since 2012.

Heart disease is a broad term that refers to several types of heart conditions, from genetic defects to blood-vessel diseases. The most common types of heart disease are coronary artery disease (CAD), cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmias, and heart valve disease.

While these illnesses can be fatal, they don’t have to be.

About 90% of risk for heart disease can be explained by smoking, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, poor weight management, and leveled biomarkers, such as high blood pressure and blood lipid levels.

The most important way to lower your risk and prevent heart disease is to adopt a healthy lifestyle.


1. Know your risk factors

Roughly half of all Americans have at least 1 or 3 major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, like family health history or genetics, but by knowing your risk factors, you can take the steps necessary to control the ones you can.

2. Choose a variety of nutrient-rich foods

A diet full of unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods gives your body the vitamins, minerals, and energy it needs to function at its
best. A wholesome diet protects your heart and improves blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity helps manage weight, balances hormones, and improves mood and energy levels.

Try to create a diet with foods like:

  • Fruits: especially different types of berries that are high in antioxidants
  • Vegetables: focus on dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, which are higher in fiber and contain phytonutrients
  • Whole grains: aim for choices like barley, quinoa, rice, and sweet potatoes
  • Fatty fish: Salmon and trout are high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Seeds and nuts: raw nuts are the best option and are associated with a 17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease

3. Get moving

The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body; it works continuously over your entire lifetime. No other muscle in the body comes close to working as hard as your heart. So just like every other muscle in the body needs to be “worked” to improve strength and function.

A recent study examined data on more than 90,000 adults without prior heart disease. During the study, the participants wore a fitness tracker to measure their activity over a seven-day period between 2013 and 2015. After a five-year follow-up, 3,617 participants had been diagnosed with some form of heart disease. They found that participants with lower levels of activity saw more signs of heart disease. In contrast, those in the top 25 percent of activity had an average reduction in risk of heart disease between 48 and 57 percent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise per week. That’s just 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.

4. Prioritize quality sleep

Sleep is the only time the body can fully rest and recharge. During deep stages of sleep, the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes, allowing the heart to recover from strain during waking hours. Without enough undisrupted sleep, the heart doesn’t have the opportunity to recover. Chronic sleep deprivation increases risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.

If you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep, try to develop a sleep routine to signal to your body it’s time to shut down:

  • Set aside worry time before you go to bed
  • Create a routine like listening to soft music or taking a bath before bed
  • Reduce or eliminate screen time
  • Only get into bed when you’re ready to sleep

5. Address stress

Stress increases inflammation in the body and releases hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. When the release of these hormones is constantly triggered, it causes the body to go into overdrive and creates a domino effect of other symptoms, like elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar, increased blood cholesterol, and heart palpitations.

A new study followed participants for over 18 years and found that both men and women who went through two or more divorces had a rise in heart attack risk that was similar to a smoker or diabetic. Another study found that stress related to work and more enjoyable events like spending time with family leads to an increased risk of heart attacks.

You are not alone

While heart disease can be a scary condition to manage, you are not alone in your illness. Read our interview with PLM member Alan, who shared his experience living with congestive heart failure (CHF) after a heart attack. He tells about his heart attack symptoms, his road to recovery, and what he wish knew about heart health before his heart attack. Join the conversation with Alan and thousands of others who suffer from heart disease at!

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