Heart Disease Prevention

You can do a lot to prevent or delay heart disease. You can start by changing what you eat and getting more physical activity. Avoiding tobacco products and limiting alcohol helps, too. Making small changes to your daily life can add up, giving you a healthier heart. Talk with your healthcare provider about a plan that works for you.


Is heart disease preventable?

Yes, in many cases, you can prevent heart disease or delay its progression. Heart disease refers to conditions that impact your heart’s function or structure. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD).

If you have CAD, that means you have plaque buildup in your coronary arteries. These are the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart to keep it pumping day after day. Plaque can limit or block blood flow to your heart, leading to symptoms like stable angina or, ultimately, a heart attack.

It’s not always possible to prevent plaque buildup in your arteries. Plaque usually starts to form when you’re a child or teen. But it can be possible to slow its progression so you avoid or delay complications.

How can heart disease be prevented?

There are many things you can do to prevent heart disease. Some involve changes you can make in your daily life. In some cases, you may need medications, too.

The list below offers lifestyle changes that can help you prevent heart disease or delay its onset.

1. Avoid smoking, vaping or using other tobacco products

Tobacco use is the most preventable risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Quitting isn’t easy. But it’s one of the most important things you can do to protect your heart and blood vessels. If you use tobacco products, talk with your healthcare provider about how to quit.

Why it matters: People who smoke have more than twice the risk of a heart attack compared with people who don’t smoke. Smoking is also the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Even one to two cigarettes a day greatly increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. Secondhand smoke also increases your risk.

2. Limit alcohol

If you drink, limit yourself to two drinks per day (if assigned male at birth) or one (if assigned female at birth). Make sure you know how much alcohol counts as a drink.

Why it matters: Drinking too much alcohol can lead to heart and blood vessel problems, including:

3. Eat heart-healthy foods

Make changes to how you eat. A dietitian can help you find changes you can make right away.

Here are some general tips for heart-healthy eating.

Eat more of these:

  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats), like tuna, salmon, flaxseed, almonds and walnuts.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods provide many nutrients. Plus, they’re often high in soluble fiber, which lowers your risk of heart disease.
  • Healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil. Use in moderation for cooking or salad dressing.
  • Whole grains. Eat whole wheat bread and brown rice, for example.

Reduce or get rid of these:

  • Processed foods (like prepackaged meals) and fast foods. These are often high in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Also, avoid red meats. Replace them with lean chicken or fish.
  • Take the salt shaker off your table. Avoid adding salt when you cook. Look for low-sodium versions of products.
  • Many fat-free foods seem more nutritious but are high in sugar. Read labels and opt for sugar-free desserts or fresh fruit.
  • Less nutritious oils like palm oil or coconut oil. These are high in saturated fat and may raise your LDL cholesterol. Also, avoid hydrogenated oils found in some margarine and shortening.

Why it matters: Heart-healthy foods give you nutrients that support your heart. Healthy eating plans limit or get rid of ingredients that can raise your blood pressure or clog your arteries. The Mediterranean diet is one such plan with proven benefits.

4. Lower your total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels

A lipid panel measures the fats in your blood like cholesterol and triglycerides. In general, aim for these levels in your lipid panel results:

  • Total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
  • LDL cholesterol below 70 mg/dL if you have cardiovascular disease.
  • LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dL if you have a high risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • LDL cholesterol below 130 mg/dL for everyone else.
  • Triglycerides below 150 mg/dL.

Talk with your provider about what these numbers mean. If they’re not in the healthy range, discuss what you can do to improve them.

Why it matters: LDL cholesterol is “bad” because it contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries (atherosclerosis). Plus, scientists have linked high total cholesterol and high triglycerides with a higher risk for heart disease.

5. Raise your HDL (good) cholesterol

When it comes to HDL cholesterol, aim for:

  • At least 45 mg/dL for people assigned male at birth (AMAB).
  • At least 55 mg/dL for people assigned female at birth (AFAB).
  • Above 60 for all adults to gain ideal protection from heart disease.

Why it matters: HDL helps your body get rid of the extra LDL (bad) cholesterol circulating in your blood. High HDL levels may protect you against heart disease. Low levels may put you at risk.

6. Manage high blood pressure

Aim for blood pressure at or below 120/80 millimeters of mercury. Your provider might change your blood pressure goal depending on your age and medical history.

To manage your blood pressure:

  • Eat a low-sodium diet.
  • Keep a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Take medication if your provider prescribes it.

Why it matters: Blood pressure is a measurement of the force inside your arteries each time your heart beats. High blood pressure makes your heart and kidneys work harder. Over time, this raises your risk of:

7. Manage diabetes

Talk with your provider about what your ideal blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C numbers should be. Then, make a plan to meet your goal.

Why it matters: People with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease. That’s because diabetes makes you more likely to have:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • High triglycerides.
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol.

8. Keep a weight that’s healthy for you

Talk with your provider about what weight is healthy for you.

In general, aim for:

  • A body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. (The target BMI varies by ethnicity. Talk to your provider about what your target should be.)
  • A waist circumference of less than 40 inches for people assigned male at birth.
  • A waist circumference of less than 35 inches for people assigned female at birth.

Why it matters: Carrying extra weight (especially around your waist) can put a burden on your heart and blood vessels. It may cause you to develop:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High triglycerides.
  • Increased risk for diabetes.

9. Move around more

Aim for 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity five days per week. This could include brisk walking or swimming. Or, aim for 25 minutes of vigorous physical activity (like running) three days per week. You still gain benefits if you’re active in several shorter chunks of 10 to 15 minutes each.

Plus, find ways to add more movement to your daily routine:

  • Get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour.
  • Park farther from the door when you go shopping.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk instead of driving whenever possible.

Talk with your provider before starting any new physical activity or changing your activity level. In general, it’s safer for you to gradually increase your activity level.

Why it matters: Physical activity is important in preventing heart disease because it:

  • Improves how well your heart pumps blood through your body.
  • Helps you prevent or manage many heart disease risk factors. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and overweight/obesity.

10. Take your medications as prescribed

Follow your provider’s guidance on when and how to take your medications. You need to take medications at the same time each day and follow other guidelines to get the most benefits.

Why it matters: Sometimes, you need medications to help manage conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol that put you at risk. If so, talk with your provider about the medications you need and why you need them.

11. Reach out for resources

If you face barriers to heart disease prevention, it’s a good idea to talk with your provider. They may be able to connect you with:

  • Community meals or food banks.
  • Counseling.
  • Dietitians.
  • Resources for cooking and meal planning.
  • Support groups.

Why it matters: You can lower your heart disease risk through your own actions, but a desire to make changes isn’t always enough. Limited access to healthy food and other resources can impact your ability to make heart-healthy choices.

12. Get a yearly checkup

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider each year. They’ll check your vital signs and evaluate your overall health. They’ll also let you know how often you need blood tests to measure your cholesterol, blood sugar and other important levels.

Why it matters: Keeping up with your appointments allows your provider to catch signs of heart disease early. As with most health conditions, early diagnosis gives you the best chance of successful treatment.

13. Manage your stress level

Keep your stress level low with workouts, meditation, yoga or music. These are better options than drinking or eating too much in response to stress. Even just breathing deeply and stretching can relieve stress. You can also take a 10-minute break to play with your pet.

Why it matters: Your blood pressure can go up when you’re feeling stressed.

14. Get the sleep you need

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. This can be difficult for many people with busy lives. To help you sleep better, try getting physical activity during the daytime and avoiding electronic screens right before bedtime.

Why it matters: A lack of sleep puts you at risk for conditions that lead to heart disease, like diabetes, a high BMI and high blood pressure.


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Additional Common Questions

Can heart disease be reversed or cured?

You can’t reverse coronary artery disease once you have it. And there’s no cure. But lifestyle changes and medications can slow or stop the progression. Scientists continue to investigate new medications and therapies every day. For now, there are still reasons to be optimistic:

  • You can do a lot to prevent or delay heart disease.
  • Treatments can help you live longer and enjoy a vibrant quality of life.

Heart disease prevention is key. But it isn’t always possible because you can’t change all of your risk factors. Plus, we all face limitations to our efforts.

It’s important to learn how to prevent heart disease and take whatever steps you can in that direction. But know there’s a safety net of treatments available to you if you need them.

What are the heart disease risk factors you can’t change?

There are many risk factors for heart disease. You might hear your healthcare provider mention “nonmodifiable risk factors.” These are risk factors that you can’t modify (change). They include growing older, experiencing menopause, having a family history of heart disease or having certain medical conditions.

Even though you can’t change these risk factors, it’s helpful to know if you have them. That’s because risk factors become more dangerous as they add up. The more you have, the greater your overall risk. So, if you have nonmodifiable risk factors, it’s even more important that you target risk factors related to your lifestyle.


What are the medical conditions that raise my risk of heart disease?

Some health conditions raise your risk of heart disease. These include:

If you have any of these conditions, talk with your healthcare provider about how to lower your heart disease risk.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Many people have one or more risk factors for heart disease. And it doesn’t always feel easy to make changes. But keep in mind that even small lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to make small, simple changes that’ll add up over time.

The knowledge that you can prevent or delay heart disease is empowering. But if your best efforts don’t lead to the results you want, you may feel discouraged. Talk with your provider about other changes you could try. And ask whether medications could help bridge the gap between where you are and where you need to be.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/26/2024.

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