The 4 best habits to lower your heart disease risk


By Kiersten Hickman

A cardiologist provides easily achievable habits to keep your ticker healthy for years to come, and lower your heart disease risk.

According to the World Health Organization, 17.9 million people die from cardiovascular disease every year, accounting for 32% of deaths worldwide. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) involve a group of heart and blood vessel disorders. Those include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and rheumatic heart disease. Four out of five CVD deaths are due to heart attacks or strokes. Additionally, one in every three happen to people under the age of 70. Still, many times the risk factors for developing CVD can be decreased by simple daily habits that will positively benefit a person’s health as they age.

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest spoke with Dr. Norman E. Lepor, MD, FACC, FAHA, FSCAI, an LA-based cardiologist, who listed the best habits to keep up with in order to lower your heart disease risk and keep your heart healthy.

Maintain a healthy diet

“I recommend my patients follow a diet low in saturated fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, as one step to help lower their risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Lepor. “They should also aim to maintain a healthy body weight. This can be accomplished by following a good diet and incorporating exercise into their weekly routine.”

Dr. Lepor’s recommendation is backed by research that shows how a diet low in saturated fat helps heart health over time. One review from American Heart Association says the Mediterranean Diet is “associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes, including clinically meaningful reductions in rates of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease.”

Complement dietary changes with regular exercise

“Maintaining an active lifestyle—such as combining both aerobic and weight-bearing exercises into your workout regimen for a couple of hours each week—can also be beneficial for your heart health,” says Dr. Lepor.

Regular exercise and improved cardiovascular health have been linked in multiple studies, proving that increasing your heart rate through aerobic exercise is beneficial for long-term health. One study published in JAMA found after three years of studying heart failure patients, participants who exercised three to five times a week (with an increased heart rate by 60% to 70%) saw improved health and quality of life. Another study found after evaluating 90,000 people, the top 25% that engaged in the vigorous-intensity exercise had a reduction of heart disease risk by 54% to 63%.

Know your risk factors

Are you at risk already for developing heart disease? Dr. Leport says it’s beneficial to know if there’s a history of CVD in your family.

“Speaking openly with your family about your health history—including whether you have a family history of heart attack/stroke or other risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, or smoking and your own cholesterol levels—is an important habit to ensure you and your doctor can properly assess your risk for heart disease,” he says.

Schedule regular check-ups with your primary care physician

Even if you have an awareness of heart disease risk factors or not, Dr. Lepor recommends talking with your doctor about heart health and other healthy habits you should adopt.

“I recommend that everyone—but especially those who might be more at risk, are 45 and older or post-menopausal—be proactive when it comes to their heart health and take the time to schedule annual check-ups, where you can talk to your doctor about your risk, assess your cholesterol levels and order any necessary tests,” says Dr. Lepor. “Ask your primary care physician if you would benefit from a coronary calcium scan to evaluate for early plaque formation.”

Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more/