10 Ways to Protect Your Heart

1. Exercise regularly. Physical activity on a regular basis (e.g., ideally 30 minutes most days a week) helps protect the heart. Performing aerobic exercise regularly also helps protect coronary arteries by reducing resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol level and body fat.

2. Keep weight within reasonable limits. Because most individuals who have heart disease are overweight, you should take steps to control your weight. Weighing too much (especially if you carry your extra pounds in your waistline) raises the risk of a heart attack.

3. Maintain blood pressure level within normal limits. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for a heart attack. Although an excessively high level of blood pressure expedites the process of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), it’s relatively easy to control (e.g., by exercising regularly, eating sensibly, restricting dietary sodium, drinking alcohol in moderation, etc.)

4. Maintain blood cholesterol levels within acceptable limits. Cholesterol, the primary constituents in arterial plaque, has two main components: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL (commonly referred to as the “good” cholesterol) carries cholesterol away from the arterial wall and deposits it in the liver which excretes it. LDL (the “bad” kind of cholesterol) deposits cholesterol into the lining of the coronary arteries, a process that eventually forms plaque. You should strive to adhere to three guidelines concerning your cholesterol level:

  1. The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL should be less than 4
  2. Total cholesterol level should not exceed 200
  3. The LDL level should be no higher than 120.

5. Don’t smoke. Smoking accentuates the risk of incurring coronary artery disease for a number of reasons, including the fact that it raises the demands of the heart for oxygen, limits the ability of blood to transport oxygen, increases the viscosity level of blood, lowers HDL level, promotes the adherence of LDL to the lining of the arteries and predisposes coronary arteries to spasm.

6. Don’t let your triglyceride level exceed 200 mg. It has been found that if you have an unduly high level of cholesterol, an excessively high level of triglycerides in the blood stream exacerbates the risk of having a heart attack. Lower the level of triglycerides by losing weight, increasing the amount of time spent exercising aerobically and reducing intake of alcohol.

7. Know the early warning symptoms of angina pectoris. The heart needs more blood when it has to work harder than normal. If coronary arteries are substantially blocked, they won’t be able to provide the blood the heart needs. As a consequence, the heart may experience a condition commonly called angina pectoris. Angina pectoris is a Latin term that refers to a tightness or suffocating pain (angina) in the chest (pectoris).

8. Keep blood sugar level close to normal. People whose blood sugar level runs high (diabetics in particular), who carry an abnormally high level of body fat and who have unduly high levels of cholesterol and blood lipids (fats), are especially at risk for a heart attack.

9. Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Be aware of the major symptoms of a heart attack (e.g., shortness of breath, an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest behind the breast bone; pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms; dizziness; fainting; nausea). If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, get to a hospital as fast as possible.

10. Be aware of your genes. If several close blood relatives have had a heart attack before age 60, your risk of having a heart attack is substantially higher. Accordingly, the need to control the major risk factors for a heart attack is heightened.