Cardiovascular, or heart, disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, especially among adults over 60. Fortunately, nearly half of the risks that contribute to cardiovascular disease can be modified through changes in lifestyle and diet.

The American Heart Association provides these seven heart-healthy measures to reduce the risk associated with CVD:

  1. Be physically active. Moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as a brisk walk or a bike ride, helps improve blood pressure, increases good cholesterol, improves insulin resistance and promotes weight loss.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days per week, or a total of 150 minutes weekly.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, skinless poultry or fish and low-fat dairy products.

Limit your consumption of red meats, high-fat dairy products and processed foods. Stick with one to two alcoholic drinks per day because heavy drinkers have the highest mortality rates for CVD.

  1. Maintain normal cholesterol levels. Your healthcare provider may perform cholesterol screenings based on certain risk factors. These include elevated blood pressure, age, smoking and a family history of premature CVD.

Follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly to ensure that your cholesterol levels remain within a healthy range.

  1. Stop smoking. Women and men who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day have a much higher risk of heart attack than those have never smoked – six times higher for women and three times higher for men.

Kicking the habit now dramatically improves your heart health.

Need help? Ask your healthcare provider about drug therapies and behavioral modification strategies to help you successfully quit smoking.

  1. Lower your blood pressure. An ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80. To lower your numbers, cut back on your salt intake, increase your physical activity and avoid drinking alcohol excessively. Your target blood pressure can vary depending on age and other risk factors.
  2. Lower your blood glucose levels. Follow the heart-healthy diet outlined above and increase your activity to keep blood glucose levels normal. If they get too high, you might be diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, which increase your risk of CVD.
  3. Achieve and maintain a normal weight. Obesity is defined as a body mass index greater than 30. It is closely associated with a few risk factors that increase your chance of having CVD.

Losing weight can help lower high blood pressure, decrease the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and improve your cholesterol numbers.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for CVD. He or she can help you come up with a plan to lower your risk and live a healthy, active life.

Heather Barnard is a family nurse practitioner who sees patients at Memorial Health University Physicians-Legacy Center in Okatie.