Most adults are familiar with one more more ways of preventing heart disease. The public has been barraged with health studies on what’s good for them and what’s bad.
When it comes to heart health, choose good nutrition; lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol and high blood pressure; be physically active; manage diabetes or prediabetes; reduce stress; limit alcohol; and don’t smoke.
You’ve heard it before, over and over again. Nonetheless, an obesity epidemic persists in the U.S. and most people don’t follow exercise or nutritional guidelines. And not enough people are getting screened for heart disease risk factors, especially those who have a family history of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes.
“We can prevent heart attacks, but this is the thing: Prevention starts with you, the patient,” says Romeo Majano, M.D. , medical director, Interventional Cardiology, Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute . “If you know that in your family there’s a history of strokes, heart attacks, sudden death, cholesterol issues, hypertension issues, diabetes … then you’re the first person who needs to identify yourself as someone at risk and then seek medical attention so we can modify the modifiable risk factors. And a lot of them are modifiable, if not all of them.”
If you have a family history of heart disease, then screenings become even more important, especially looking at cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
“If you have a bad family history, you may not stop at numbers, but actually have additional testing to look at the types of particles in your cholesterol,” explains Dr. Majano. “You could have the really, really bad atherogenic LDL particles that cause plaque buildup (in arteries) and cause heart attacks. LDL is the bad cholesterol, but there are many levels of bad.”
Promoting Heart Health at All Ages
No matter what your age, everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). It’s starts with daily nutrition. The AHA says that the food you eat “can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.”
Here are the basic recommendations from the AHA:
- Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
- As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat.
- Select lower fat dairy products and poultry (skinless).
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat. If you choose to eat meat, select the leanest cuts available.
- You can slowly work up to at least 2½ hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as brisk walking) every week;
- or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (such as jogging, running) or a combination of both every week.
- Additionally, on 2 or more days a week, you need muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest shoulders, and arms).
- Children should get at least 60 minutes of activity every day.
Here are the AHA’s key recommendations  by age group
In your 20s:
- Find a doctor and have regular wellness exams.
- Be physically active.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
In your 30s:
- Make heart-healthy living a family affair.
- Know your family history of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
- Tame your stress.
In your 40s:
- Watch your weight. You may notice your metabolism slowing down.
- Have your blood sugar level checked.
- Don’t brush off snoring or other sleep health issues.
In your 50s:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.
- Follow your treatment plan if diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or other conditions that increase your risk for heart disease or stroke.
In your 60s-plus:
- Have an ankle-brachial index test, which can diagnose peripheral vascular disease, as part of a physical exam.
- Watch your weight. Your body needs fewer calories as you get older.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Heart attack symptoms in women can be different than those in men.