Prevention of Heart Disease

Following a healthy lifestyle and taking steps to lower your risk for heart disease may help you prevent atrial fibrillation (AF). These steps include:

  • Following a heart healthy diet that's low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. A healthy diet includes a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables daily.
  • Not smoking.
  • Being physically active.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

If you already have heart disease or other AF risk factors, work with your doctor to manage your condition. In addition to adopting the healthy habits above, which can help control heart disease, your doctor may advise you to:

  • Follow the DASH eating plan to help lower your blood pressure.
  • Keep your cholesterol and triglycerides at healthy levels with dietary changes and medicines (if prescribed).
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Control your blood sugar level if you have diabetes.
  • Get ongoing medical care and take your medicines as prescribed.

Source: NHLBI (NIH)1

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Back to: « Heart Disease

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To protect your heart, the first step is to learn your own personal risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors are conditions or habits that make you more likely to develop a disease. Risk factors can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse.

Certain risk factors—like getting older or having a family history of heart disease—can’t be changed. But you do have control over some important risk factors such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, excess weight, diabetes and physical inactivity. Many people have more than one risk factor. To safeguard your heart, it’s best to lower or eliminate as many as you can because they tend to “gang up” and worsen each other’s effects.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)2

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To tackle your heart risk factors, it helps to know your numbers. Ask your health care provider to measure your blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Then determine if your weight is in the healthy range.

The higher your cholesterol level, the greater your risk for heart disease or heart attack. High blood cholesterol itself doesn’t cause symptoms, so you can’t know if your cholesterol is too high unless you have it tested. Routine blood tests can show your overall cholesterol level and separate levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these blood measurements are linked to your heart health.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is another major risk factor for heart disease, as well as for stroke. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because, like high cholesterol, it usually has no symptoms. Blood pressure is always reported as 2 numbers, and any numbers above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Scientific evidence is strong that controlling high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure prevents cardiac events such as heart attacks,” says Dr. Michael Lauer, a heart disease specialist at NIH.

Your weight is another important number to know. To find out if you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart disease, you’ll need to calculate your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height). This NIH web page can help: A BMI between 25 and 29.9 means that you’re overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher means obesity.

Next, take out a tape measure. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men raises the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions. Fortunately, even a small weight loss (between 5% and 10% of your current weight) can help lower your risk.

NIH has many tools available to help you aim for a healthy weight, including physical activity tips and a menu planner. To learn more, visit

A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Try to avoid saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt) and added sugar.

NIH's Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets both promote healthy eating. U.S. News & World Report named TLC and DASH the top 2 overall diets for 2012.

Regular physical activity is another powerful way to reduce your risk of heart-related problems and enjoy a host of other health benefits. To make physical activity a pleasure rather than a chore, choose activities you enjoy. Take a brisk walk, play ball, lift light weights, dance or garden. Even taking the stairs instead of an elevator can make a difference.

“At least 2 and a half hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes—a winner on multiple counts,” says Dr. Diane Bild, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at NIH.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar, or glucose, under control. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of heart or blood vessel disease. If you’re at risk for diabetes, modest changes in diet and level of physical activity can often prevent or delay its development.

If you happen to be a smoker, the best thing you can do for your heart is stop. People who smoke are up to 6 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than nonsmokers. The risk of heart attack increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day.

The good news is that quitting smoking will immediately begin to reduce your risk, and the benefit in reduced risk will continue to increase over time. Just one year after you stop smoking, your risk will have dropped by more than half.

Beyond controlling your risk factors, you should be alert to certain symptoms and get checked by a doctor. Common signals that something"s wrong with your heart include angina—pain in the chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back—as well as shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or palpitations (arrhythmia) and fatigue.

Be aware that the symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same if you have another one.

Finally, don’t forget that you can influence your loved ones’ heart health by setting an example. Do you have children, grandchildren or other young people who look up to you? If you follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, it’s more likely that they will, too. Because heart disease begins in childhood, one of the best things you can do for those you love is to help children build strong bodies and healthy habits.

The bottom line is, it’s never too late to take steps to protect your heart. It’s also never too early. Start today to keep your heart strong. Talk to your doctor about your risk and to create an action plan. Love your heart.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)3

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Heart Disease:

  • Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. See for help quitting.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. Go to to read about how to control your weight.
  • Get moving. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. See for tips on getting started.
  • Eat for heart health. Choose a diet that’s low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Be sure to include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. See for an eating plan that’s clinically proven to help your heart.
  • Go to to learn more about heart health.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)4

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What You Can Do for Heart Health

You can lower your chance of heart disease and a heart attack by taking simple steps.

  • Eat a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Choose foods low in saturated fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Exercise regularly. Adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes (or 150 minutes total) of exercise each week. You can spread your activity out during the week, and can break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day.
  • Be smokefree. If you are ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569 for Spanish speakers) for free resources, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to other resources where you live.
  • Limit alcohol use, which can lead to long-term health problems, including heart disease and cancer. If you do choose to drink, do so in moderation, which is no more than one drink a day for women. Do not drink at all if you are pregnant.
  • Know your family history. There may be factors that could increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Manage any medical condition you might have. Learn the ABCS of heart health. Keep them in mind every day and especially when you talk to your health provider: ?Appropriate aspirin therapy for those who need it
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol management
  • Smoking cessation

Source: CDC Features5

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To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it's important to[8]

  • Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Discuss checking your cholesterol and triglycerides with your healthcare provider.
  • Make healthy food choices. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.

Source: CDC DHDSP6

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Two-thirds of heart disease deaths in Queensland are preventable.

The main preventable risk factors affecting the heart are:

To keep your heart healthy:

  • quit smoking
  • eat a wide range of healthy foods
  • do at least 30 minutes of exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week
  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • visit your doctor for advice or to help you form a strategy for improving your heart health.
  • If you are deemed to be at high risk of or have heart disease your doctors may prescribe further lifestyle changes and medication. It’s important to follow this advice and take your medicines as prescribed.

The Heart Foundation has more information on heart disease and how to keep your heart healthy.

Source: Queensland Government7

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There are choices you can make to prevent or delay heart disease, including:

Source: NIA (NIH)8

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What Can I Do to Prevent Heart Disease?

There are a lot of steps you can take to keep your heart healthy.

Try to be more physically active. Talk with your doctor about the type of activities that would be best for you. If possible, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most or all days of the week. Every day is best. It doesn’t have to be done all at once—10-minute periods will do. Start by doing activities you enjoy—brisk walking, dancing, bowling, bicycling, or gardening, for example. Visit Go4Life®, an exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH, designed to help you fit exercise and physical activity into your daily life.

If you smoke, quit. Smoking adds to the damage to artery walls. It’s never too late to get some benefit from quitting smoking. Quitting, even in later life, can over time, lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

Follow a heart-healthy diet. Choose low-fat foods and those that are low in salt. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber like those made from whole grains. And if you drink alcohol, men should not have more than two drinks a day and women only one. Get more information on healthy eating from NIA. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has information on two eating plans—Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).

Keep a healthy weight. Your healthcare provider will probably check your weight and height to learn your BMI (body mass index). A BMI of 25 or higher means you are at greater risk for heart disease as well as diabetes (high blood sugar) and other health conditions. Extra fat around the middle of your body may increase your risk of heart disease. A man’s risk of heart disease is increased if his waist measures more than 40 inches. A woman’s risk is increased at 35 inches. Following a healthy eating plan and being physically active might help you.

Source: NIA (NIH)9

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Heart disease prevention

You don't need to become a super athlete or go on a very strict diet to protect your heart and lower your risk for heart disease. Every woman can take steps every day toward a more heart-healthy lifestyle. And the best part is that being more heart-healthy also lowers your risk for other diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Get moving

For the most health benefits, you need to get enough aerobic activity to get your heart pumping and do muscle-strengthening activities every week. (Always check with your doctor before starting any regular exercise you are not used to doing.)

You should get at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, on most days of the week. The 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity don't have to be all at one time. You can break it up into 10-minute activities throughout the day.

Do the following each week:

Aerobic activity:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as a brisk walk, OR
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as running, OR
  • A combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity

Muscle-strengthening activity:

  • Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days

Learn more about how to be active for health.

Eat healthy foods

Making unhealthy food choices can lead to weight gain. But that is not the only risk. Unhealthy eating affects your arteries, blood pressure, glucose level, and many other parts of your heart health. Talk to your doctor or nurse about a heart-healthy eating plan that lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Aim for a healthy weight

Reaching and staying at a healthy weight will lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you already have heart disease, a healthy weight will help you control your disease and prevent heart attack. A slow and steady weight loss is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you need to lose and the best ways to do it. Learn more in our Fitness and Nutrition section.

Know your heart disease numbers

Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) and blood sugar levels. Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans must cover these tests at no cost to you. These tests will give you important information about your heart health. Your doctor can tell you what your numbers mean and what you need to do to protect your heart.

Know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke

All women need to know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke and what to do. Make sure your friends and loved ones know how to recognize the symptoms too. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, call 911.

Knowing the symptoms and getting help quickly can help you survive a heart attack or stroke and make a full recovery.

Don't smoke

If you smoke, get the help you need to quit. Start by visiting for woman-specific information, tips, and tools.

Limit your alcohol use

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For women, this means no more than one drink per day.

"One drink" is:

  • A glass of wine (5 ounces)
  • A can of beer (12 ounces)
  • A shot of liquor (1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor)

If you don't already drink, don't start drinking for health reasons. Moderate drinking is also linked to breast cancer, violence, and injuries. No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

Take care of yourself

Stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep can raise your risk for heart disease. Take care of yourself with these steps:

  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
  • Don't stress. Keep stress in check by taking time each day to relax and unwind.
  • Treat mental health problems. Get help if you have trouble coping because of depression, anxiety, or another health problem.
  • Make a well-woman visit. Make an appointment with your doctor for an annual well-woman visit.

Source: OWH (DHHS)10

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To lower your risk for heart disease, your body mass index (BMI) should be between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Find your BMI using this BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Where you carry extra weight also affects your heart disease risk. Women who carry body fat around their waists (apple-shaped body) are at higher risk for heart disease than those who carry weight around their hips and thighs (pear-shaped body). Women with waist measurements more than 35 inches, regardless of their height, have a higher risk of heart disease.

Women with an apple-shaped body may have a higher risk for heart disease than women with a pear-shaped body.

Source: OWH (DHHS)11

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Treating your lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can lower your risk of heart disease.

Read more about lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Source: OWH (DHHS)12

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CVD is preventable in many cases, as a number of its risk factors are modifiable, such as overweight and obesity, tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition and diabetes.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare13

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Your rheumatologist, a specialist in treating muscle and joint conditions, can advise about lifestyle changes you should make to minimise your risk of developing a CVD.

These changes may include:

  • stopping smoking - if you smoke
  • losing weight - if you are overweight or obese
  • taking regular exercise - 150 minutes of exercise a week can greatly increase your health
  • making changes to your diet to keep other conditions you may have under control - such as diabetes or high blood pressure

You may also be prescribed medication to reduce your blood pressure or blood cholesterol level.

Source: NHS Choices UK14

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Preventing CVD

A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of CVD. If you already have CVD, staying as healthy as possible can reduce the chances of it getting worse.

Ways you can reduce your CVD risk are outlined below.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, you should try to give up as soon as possible. The NHS Smokefree website can provide information, support and advice to help.

Your GP can also provide you with advice and support, they can also prescribe medication to help you quit.

Read more about stopping smoking and stop smoking treatments.

Have a balanced diet

A healthy, balanced diet is recommended for a healthy heart.

A balanced diet includes:

  • low levels of saturated fat (found in foods such as fatty cuts of meat, lard, cream, cakes and biscuits) - try to include healthier sources of fat, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds and olive oil
  • low levels of salt - aim for less than 6g (0.2 oz or one teaspoon) a day
  • low levels of sugar
  • plenty of fibre and wholegrain foods
  • plenty of fruit and vegetables - eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Read more about healthy eating.

Exercise regularly

Adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, such as cycling or brisk walking.

If you find it difficult to do this, start at a level you feel comfortable with and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness improves.

Visit your GP for a health check if you haven't exercised before, or if you're returning to exercise after a long break.

Read advice about starting exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight

If you're overweight or obese, a combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose weight. Aim to get your BMI below 25.

If you're struggling to lose weight, your GP or practice nurse can help you come up with a weight loss plan and recommend services in your area.

Read more about losing weight and how your GP can help.

Cut down on alcohol

If you drink alcohol, try not to exceed the recommended limit of 14 alcohol units a week for men and women. If you do drink this much, you should aim to spread your drinking over three days or more.

A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits. A small glass of wine (125ml) is about 1.5 units.

Your GP can give you help and advice if you're finding it difficult to cut down your drinking. Get some tips on cutting down.


If you have a particularly high risk of developing CVD, your GP may recommend taking medication to reduce your risk.

Medications that may be recommended include statins to lower blood cholesterol levels, low-dose aspirin to prevent blood clots and tablets to reduce blood pressure.

Source: NHS Choices UK15

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Endocarditis prophylaxis

If you've had rheumatic fever before, you may need antibiotics during surgery to protect the heart valves from becoming infected (endocarditis).

Source: NHS Choices UK16

Prevention of Heart Disease

Physical Activity: Moving more and sitting less can reduce your risk for many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain kinds of cancer. Some studies suggest that physical activity can have mental benefits as well, helping to relieve depression and maintain thinking abilities as you age. Healthful physical activity includes exercise as well as many everyday activities, such as doing active chores around the house, yard work, or walking the dog.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)17

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Fish Oil: Research suggests that fish oil can promote heart health. Of the supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals, Hopp says, “fish oil probably has the most scientific evidence to support its use.”

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)18

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Fiber: The strongest evidence of fiber's benefits is related to cardiovascular health. Several large studies that followed people for many years found that those who ate the most fiber had a lower risk for heart disease. The links between fiber and cardiovascular health were so consistent that these studies were used by the Institute of Medicine to develop the Dietary Reference Intakes for fiber.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)19

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Physical activity: Get Active for a Healthy Heart

Physical inactivity is one of several major heart disease risk factors you can do something about.

Experts recommend that all adults should be moderately active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. They recommend at least 60 minutes per day to help manage body weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain.

Children and adolescents also need to be active for at least 60 minutes per day. So pry the kids off the couch and help yourself stay fit by doing enjoyable activities together.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)20

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Low-fat diet: Women who had the greatest decrease in the saturated and trans fats they ate saw improvements in their rates of heart disease.

These fats weren’t the focus of the study when it was designed, but we know they’re more strongly related to heart disease than the total amount of fat you eat.

Those on the low-fat diet had modest improvements in other measures that are proven risk factors for heart disease as well.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)21

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Manage Hypertension: Research show that a 12-13 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure could reduce death from cardiovascular disease by 25%.[5]

Because the consequences of high blood pressure are so serious, early detection, treatment, and control are critical.

Source: CDC DHDSP22

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Depression treatments: Most people with depression get better with treatment, which may include therapy and medicine. Treating your depression can help lower your risk for heart disease. Learn more at our depression page, and read more about the link between depression and heart disease.

Source: OWH (DHHS)23

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Diabetes Management: Diabetes and Heart Health

If you have diabetes, it is important to take care of your heart. Learn about how diabetes affects your heart and tips for lowering your risk for heart disease and other heart problems.

People with diabetes should be aware of their heart health. Having diabetes makes heart attack and stroke more likely—but it doesn't have to. Research has shown that people with diabetes can lower their risk for heart disease and other heart problems by managing the ABCs of diabetes— A1C, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol—and stopping smoking. The NDEP provides educational resources for people with diabetes and health care professionals to raise awareness of the effect of diabetes on heart health.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)24

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  1. Source: NHLBI (NIH): health/ health-topics/ topics/ af/ prevention
  2. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ feb2012/ feature1
  3. ibid.
  4. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): 2006/ April/ docs/ 01features_01.htm
  5. Source: CDC Features: Features/ WearRed/ index.html
  6. Source: CDC DHDSP: dhdsp/ data_statistics/ fact_sheets/ fs_women_heart.htm
  7. Source: Queensland Government: health/ staying-healthy/ men-women/ men/ heart
  8. Source: NIA (NIH): health/ heart-health
  9. ibid.
  10. Source: OWH (DHHS): heart-disease-and-stroke/ heart-disease/ heart-disease-prevention
  11. Source: OWH (DHHS): heart-disease-and-stroke/ heart-disease/ heart-disease-risk-factors/ health-conditions
  12. ibid.
  13. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: reports-statistics/ health-conditions-disability-deaths/ heart-stroke-vascular-diseases/ about
  14. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ ankylosing-spondylitis/ complications/ 
  15. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Cardiovascular-disease/ 
  16. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ rheumatic-fever/ complications/ 
  17. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ may2015/ feature1
  18. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ aug2013/ feature1
  19. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ aug2010/ feature1
  20. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): 2006/ September/ docs/ 02capsules.htm
  21. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): 2006/ April/ docs/ 01features_01.htm
  22. Source: CDC DHDSP: dhdsp/ data_statistics/ fact_sheets/ fs_state_hbp.htm
  23. Source: OWH (DHHS): heart-disease-and-stroke/ heart-disease/ heart-disease-risk-factors/ health-conditions
  24. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): magazine/ issues/ fall14/ articles/ fall14pg17.html

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.