30 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Take cardiovascular disease from high risk to low risk with these simple tips.

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Converting high risk into low risk

r.classen/ShutterstockBetween 1950 and 2000, the death rate from heart disease in the United States plummeted nearly 70 percent, and the death rate from stroke nearly 80 percent. However, although we're dying of heart attack and stroke less often, we're still getting cardiovascular disease just as often. In fact, some factors that put us at risk, such as obesity and diabetes, have become more common. We're dying less often because of the technological and pharmacological advances of modern medicine. But is your idea of a healthy future being pulled back from the brink by bypass surgery? Needing a personal secretary to keep track of your medications? Better living through angioplasty? We thought not. Far preferable is avoiding cardiovascular disease altogether. It can take some work to convert a high risk for heart disease into a low risk. But we're here to tell you that it can be done! You know the mission we're on: putting the power of stealth at the service of your health. Add up these small changes to your daily routine, and you've got a powerful dose of heart disease prevention—no coronary care units or intra-aortic balloon pumps required! These are things that heart doctors do to protect their own hearts.

Ride your bike 20 minutes a day

Roman-Samborskyi/ShutterstockYou can handle that, can't you? When German researchers had 100 men with mild chest pain, or angina, either exercise 20 minutes a day on a stationary bike or undergo an artery-clearing procedure called angioplasty, they found that a year after the angioplasty, 21 men suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other problem compared to only 6 of the bikers. Just remember that if you already have angina, you should only begin an exercise program under medical supervision. Make sure to follow these tips to be a safer cycler.

Eat a piece of dark chocolate several times a week

Voyagerix/ShutterstockBelieve it or not, several small studies suggest dark chocolate could be good for your heart! The beneficial effects are likely due to chemicals in chocolate called flavonoids, which help arteries stay flexible. Other properties of the sweet stuff seem to make arteries less likely to clot and prevent the "bad" cholesterol, LDL, from oxidizing, making it less likely to form plaque. Dark chocolate is also rich in magnesium and fiber. But steer clear of milk chocolate, which is high in butterfat and thus tends to raise cholesterol. There are other great benefits of dark chocolate as well.

Have a beer once a day

bogdanhoda/ShutterstockA study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that men who drank one beer a day for one month lowered their cholesterol levels, increased their blood levels of heart-healthy antioxidants, and reduced their levels of fibrinogen, a protein that contributes to blood clots. Of course, red wine might be even better. Choose either beer or wine—not both.

Take a B vitamin complex every morning

1989studio/ShutterstockWhen Swiss researchers asked more than 200 men and women to take either a combination of three B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) or a placebo after they had surgery to open their arteries, they found that levels of homocysteine, a substance linked to an increased risk of heart disease, were 40 percent lower in those who took the vitamins. The placebo group had no change. Plus, the vitamin group had wider-open blood vessels than those taking the sugar pill.

Tape-record yourself at night

MIGUEL-GARCIA-SAAVEDRA/ShutterstockIf you hear yourself snoring (or if your sleeping partner has been kicking you a lot), make an appointment with your doctor. You may have sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing stops hundreds of times throughout the night. It can lead to high blood pressure and other medical problems, and even increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Go to bed an hour earlier tonight

F8-studio/ShutterstockA Harvard study of 70,000 women found that those who got less than seven hours of sleep had a slightly higher risk of heart disease. Researchers suspect lack of sleep increases stress hormones, raises blood pressure, and affects blood sugar levels. Keep your overall sleeping time to no more than nine hours, however. The same study found women sleeping nine or more hours had a slightly increased risk of heart disease. Sleeping too long can have other negative effects as well.

Eat fish at least once a week

svariophoto/ShutterstockHave it grilled, sautéed, baked, or roasted—just have it. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April 2002 found that women who ate fish at least once a week were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who ate fish only once a month. Other studies show similar benefits for men. Another major study found regular fish consumption reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation—rapid, irregular heartbeat— a major cause of sudden death.

Eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal at least four times a weekChamille-White/ShutterstockIn a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 1999, Harvard University scientists found that women who ate 23 grams of fiber a day—mostly from cereal—were 23 percent less likely to have heart attacks than those who consumed only 11 grams of fiber. In men, a high-fiber diet slashed the chances of a heart attack by 36 percent. Here is how you can get more fiber in your diet without even trying.

Sprinkle one ounce of ground flaxseed on your cereal or yogurt every day

Michelle-Lee-Photography/ShutterstockThis way you'll be getting about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that numerous studies find help prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of dying suddenly from heart rhythm abnormalities.
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