Nobody likes talking about heart disease. But we need to: heart disease remains the leading cause of death in both men and women — it results in 1 in 4 deaths nationwide — and yet a quarter of these deaths are preventable through simple lifestyle adjustments. Ready for a little good news? Between 2001 and 2010, the death rate from heart disease dropped by 29%. Let’s continue that trend!

Before we go on, we need to define our terms. Heart disease — also called cardiovascular disease — can include the following:

  • Blood vessel diseases
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart rhythm problem (arrhythmias)
  • Heart defects you were born with (congenital heart defects)
  • Narrow or blocked blood vessels, chest pain (angina), or stroke

You might see the above list and assume you are in the clear. Not so fast! Roughly half of all Americans have one of three top risk factors for heart disease:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. High cholesterol
  3. A smoking habit

Though other things — including existing health conditions, lifestyle, age, and family history — affect your risk for heart disease, you want to really watch out for and manage the big three.

Blood pressure, for instance, is incredibly common and risky. The more than 67 million people with high blood pressure are 4 times more likely to die from a stroke and 3 times more likely to die from heart disease compared to people with low blood pressure. But there are things you can do. If you have high blood pressure, take these steps:

  1. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be.
  2. Take blood pressure medicine as prescribed.
  3. If you smoke — quit now! Your doctor can help.
  4. Reduce your salt intake.

It’s also important to practice heart-healthy habits. Strategies for maintaining a healthy heart include:

  1. Avoid smoking or using tobacco products.
  2. Exercise for 30 minutes 4 days a week.
  3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. This includes fruits, veggies, and good fats.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight. Reducing your weight by only 5-10% can help decrease your blood pressure.
  5. Get quality sleep — and enough of it! Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  6. Get regular blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screening.

And finally: if you think you may have any of the above ailments or are experiencing any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body pain
  • Discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats