Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, refers to a buildup in the arteries that makes it hard for blood to flow through the body. This build up in the arteries can cause life-threatening health issues, such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure and more.

Here are five important changes you can make to improve your heart health:

1) Take control of your health

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is one of the most important ways you can decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Knowing if you have high blood pressure is an important first step. To do that, schedule an appointment with your medical provider. If you have high blood pressure, it is important to check it regularly. Your health care team can teach you how to check your blood pressure at home and will work with you to help you lower your blood pressure.

2) Eat a healthy diet

Make food choices that can help lower your blood pressure, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat. Foods high in sugar also cause high blood pressure, so limit intake of sweets and sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda or sports drinks. When you are grocery shopping, read food labels to help you figure out which foods are high in fat and sugar. A healthy diet will also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol. Neighborcare Health has nutritionists available to help patients learn how to change their diet.

3) Cut back on salty foods

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American consumes twice the daily recommended dose of sodium. Eating too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure. Here are four easy steps everyone can do to reduce sodium in their diet:

  • Read food labels and choose low-sodium alternatives.
  • Eat less processed food; processed foods have much more sodium than natural foods.
  • Add herbs and spices to your food instead of salt.
  • Reduce sodium in your diet slowly so you don’t feel like you’re are missing out.

4) Move more, sit less

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity every week, but only about one in five adults get enough exercise. Exercise gets your heart pumping, which improves circulation and lowers blood pressure. Even everyday activities, such as going for a walk or cleaning your home, can decrease your risk for heart disease. Not only does physical activity promote heart health, it also helps you sleep, think and feel better. If you have a chronic condition or disability, talk to your medical provider about what type of physical activity is right for you.

5) Quit smoking (or don’t start)

One of the best ways to reduce your risk for heart disease is to avoid tobacco smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. The chemicals in tobacco damage your blood cells, heart and blood vessels, and increase the risk for heart disease. If you have high blood pressure, the effects of smoking increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and more. No matter how much or how long you’ve smoked, quitting will improve your overall health. Talk to your provider if you need help stopping tobacco use. 

Neighborcare Health is the largest provider of primary medical and dental services for low-income and uninsured families and individuals in Seattle. Find a clinic in your neighborhood. All are welcome at Neighborcare Health.