SOURCE: Mayo Clinic

March 08, 2010 08:00 ET

Five Steps to Better Heart Health

MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - March 8, 2010) -  (Family Features) Heart disease -- or cardiovascular disease -- seems like something that happens to other people. But the truth is, about one third of adult Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 80 million Americans -- that's one of every three adults -- live with one or more types of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The toll this takes is enormous. In addition to reducing quality of life and raising health care costs, heart disease kills more people than any other disease, including cancer. The CDC estimates that every 37 seconds, someone dies from heart disease.

What can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease? Following these five steps can help you take control of your heart health and put you on the path to a healthier life.

1. Know the Risk Factors.
Knowledge is power. Once you know what behaviors and conditions contribute to the problem, you can take action.

  • Unhealthy Diet. Foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol raise blood pressure levels and promote atherosclerosis. Too much sodium causes high blood pressure levels as well.
  • Physical Inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle impacts blood pressure, the amount of good cholesterol and triglycerides in the body, and weight.
  • Tobacco Use. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4800 chemicals, many of them damaging to the heart. Cigarette smoking promotes atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) and raises the levels of blood clotting factors. Nicotine raises blood pressure and heart rates, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. Exposure to second-hand smoke can significantly increase the risk of heart disease in non-smokers.
  • Heredity. Genetic factors may play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease and other vascular conditions.

2. Know Your Numbers.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing them, you probably won't know whether or not you have these conditions. It's important that you know what your levels are, to keep track of them over time, and to share them with care givers and family members. Using online personal health management applications like Mayo Clinic Health Manager, can simplify how you organize and track your numbers and assist in determining your personal blood pressure and cholesterol goals.

  • Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more frequent checks if your numbers aren't optimal, or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
  • Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years. You may need more frequent testing if your numbers aren't optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. The optimal cholesterol levels are determined by the number or risk factors and other diagnosis.

3. Stop Using Tobacco Products.
When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease is dramatically reduced within just one year. No matter how long or how much you've smoked, you start reaping rewards as soon as you quit. Talk to your doctor about effective ways to stop smoking. In addition, you can find online tools and information at

4. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet.
Many doctors recommend the DASH diet -- DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. That may not sound like a tempting menu description, but eating to protect your heart really can be delicious and satisfying.

Reducing the amounts of saturated and trans fat you eat is key. Sources of saturated fat include beef, butter, cheese, milk, and coconut and palm oils. Check package labels for "partially hydrogenated" to avoid trans fats.

Heart-healthy eating isn't all about cutting things out. The DASH diet is rich in fruits and vegetables (the recommendation is 5 servings a day), whole grains and other foods that can help protect your heart, help you control your weight, and improve overall health. Learn more at

5. Get Moving.
Physical activity can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. It helps you control weight and reduces your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.

  • Guidelines recommend exercising vigorously at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Keep in mind that gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total time.

Try to maintain a BMI (body mass index) of 25 to 30.

It's easier than you think to prevent and manage heart disease. Taking small steps can make a big difference. Start following these five steps, and track your progress using an application like Mayo Clinic Health Manager at It's free and you don't have to be a Mayo Clinic patient to use it.

Online Tools for Creating Better Cardio Care
The more you know about your own health and habits, and the more proactive you are in taking care of yourself, the better off you'll be. To help people manage their health better, Mayo Clinic and Microsoft worked together to develop Mayo Clinic Health Manager,, powered by Microsoft HealthVault.

Mayo Clinic Health Manager is a free privacy-and-security-enhanced online application where you can organize your health information and receive personalized guidance.

  • Take a heart disease risk assessment to find out more about your chances for developing a fatal heart condition.
  • Use the Prepare for Appointment feature to customize and print relevant information on medications, blood pressure and cholesterol before a doctor's visit.
  • Get personalized heart health guidance based on expertise of Mayo Clinic physicians. The amount of information you provide influences the recommendations you will receive.

Mayo Clinic Health Manager allows you to create custom trackers for:

  • Blood pressure (you can download data directly from compatible devices like blood pressure cuffs)
  • Cholesterol
  • Weight
  • Exercise
  • And more

View the charts over time to see if everything is in check. Based on the information you enter, you'll receive reminders for screenings you may need and the latest information on heart health.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images