Heart-Healthy Lifestyle


Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. But it's a disease that can be effectively treated—and even prevented.

Your lifestyle is your best defense against heart disease and stroke. Making just one change from the list below can do your heart a world of good.

Quit Using Tobacco

Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow. This makes it difficult for blood to reach your heart muscle. Nicotine temporarily raises blood pressure, and the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke deprives the heart of oxygen. That's why smokers have twice the risk of having a heart attack than nonsmokers. So, if you smoke, it pays to quit. Or, talk with your doctor about ways to quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke, which is also bad for your heart. Plan your quit strategy.

Eat More Fruit and Veggies

Eating fatty foods can lead to the buildup of fat deposits in your arteries. This can lead to blockages in the arteries of your heart and may eventually cause a heart attack. To help avoid a buildup of fat in your arteries, limit foods that are high in animal fats. These include fatty meats, whole-milk products, egg yolks and fried foods. If possible, choose their low-fat counterparts, such as nonfat milk or low-fat dairy products. In addition, choose cooking oils made with unsaturated fats, such as canola and olive oils. They are healthier than oils made with saturated fats. But since they are still types of fat, use them in limited amounts. Also, try to eat 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily. They're good for you, and they fill you up. Learn how to give your diet a nutritional tune up.

Relieve Stress

Continued and elevated levels of stress have been consistently linked to health problems, including an increased risk for heart disease and cardiac death. Stress is frequently associated with anger, another emotion that is tightly linked with risk of cardiac death. Common ways of dealing with stress, such as overeating and smoking, can harm your heart. Keep your stress low by exercising, sharing your concerns with friends and family, and making some quiet time for yourself each day. Spending 15-20 minutes every day doing something you enjoy is a simple, but effective, step toward a less stressful life.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends regular screening for your risk for heart disease beginning at age 20. Screening includes measuring blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference and pulse each regular health care visit, or at least every two years, and getting a cholesterol profile every five years for normal-risk people. Take a quiz to learn how you handle stress.

Dr​op a Few Pounds

The AHA considers obesity to be a major risk factor for heart disease. If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease your risk. Reaching or maintaining an ideal weight also helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level. Learn more about nutrition, exercise and behavior with these weight management tools.

Maintain a Regular Blood Pressure

Make sure your blood pressure is in the optimal range or under control. Blood pressure is the force exerted on the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. The harder your heart works, the greater your risk for having a heart attack. The first number in a blood pressure measurement shows the force of the blood against artery walls when the heart contracts; it is called systolic pressure. The lower number is the pressure of blood against artery walls when the heart is resting; it is called diastolic.

According to the AHA, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80; systolic readings of 120 to 139 or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 are considered prehypertensive. A  systolic pressure of 140 or greater, or a diastolic pressure of 90 and above is considered hypertension or high blood pressure.

Making smart lifestyle choices, such as eating a diet low in sodium, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, reducing stress and limiting alcohol, will decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Do you know the risk factors of high blood pressure? Take this quiz to find out.

Be Kind to Somebody

Spreading kindness to others helps to release oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. This hormone plays a significant role in the cardiovascular system. It releases a chemical called nitric oxide into the blood vessels, which expands the blood vessels. Because of its ability to reduce blood pressure, oxytocin is known as a cardio-protective hormone.

Read these articles to learn more about the science of kindness.

Additional Tips

Learn more about heart health in Floyd’s online health library.


To learn more about the heart (cardiac) services and treatments provided by Floyd, call 706.509.6700 or email contactus@floyd.org.