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Do Your Part, Care for Your Heart

Every 36 seconds one person dies from cardiovascular disease in the United States, which is approximately 655,000 Americans dying from heart disease each year.1,2 Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, congenital heart defects, heart valve disease, disease of the heart muscle, and heart infections. Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices. Additionally, in 2014-2015 heart disease cost the United States about $219 billioneach year, which includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.3

Risk Factors

Research shows that heart disease is a very common disease that Americans are living with and dying from, so what are the risk factors? There are a few risk factors that we can’t control such as being male, being a woman who is past menopause, being older, and having a family history of heart attack or coronary artery disease. While we can’t change the risk factors listed above there are some risk factors that we can change/manage, which include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, unhealthy diet, and stress. By improving our habits, we can cut our risk of heart attack and/or chest pain.

Prevention is Key

So, what should you do if you have one or more risk factors for heart disease? The great news is there are several things we can do to reduce our chances of heart disease. And, if your arteries are already clogged, you can work to slow the damage with a healthier diet, regular exercise, smoke cessation, and reducing stress. By following healthy lifestyle behaviors, you can stop or even reverse the narrowing of arteries. While this is important for those with risk factors for the disease, it is even more important if you have had a heart attack or procedure to restore blood flow to your heart or other areas of your body. You’re never too young or old to start practicing a heart healthy lifestyle, to ensure your heart will last you a lifetime.

Healthy Changes in Your Eating Habits

So, what dietary changes can you make to reduce your heart disease risk? A well-balanced diet is very heart healthy, as is a Mediterranean diet. You’ll want to start eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, which are rich in dietary fiber and other valuable nutrients that are heart healthy. Carbohydrates as a food group get a bad reputation from fad diets and weight loss programs but complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole grain pasta can be heart healthy. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar sweetened beverages, and sweets on the other hand are not heart healthy. Sodium is found in many prepared and processed food sources and can add up quickly in your diet. Excess sodium intake on a regular basis can increase your risk for heart disease.

Dietary fats can be heart healthy when they are from unsaturated sources such as avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, nuts and seeds, olive oil, etc. so try to consume more healthy fats and cut back on your saturated and trans-fat consumption. Saturated fats are found in whole fat dairy products and other animal products such as bacon, sausage, fatty beef, and others. You can help decrease your saturated fat intake by eating lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, wild game, and legumes. Limit red meat, as this tends to be high in fat and cholesterol.

Other Lifestyle Changes

You probably seen this one coming, regular physical activity is very heart healthy and can help reduce your risk of heart disease. The physical activity recommendations are to obtain at least 150 minutes each week, and it may seem like a lot, but that could be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Of those 150 minutes, be sure to include the two types of physical activity each week to improve their health, which are aerobic activity and muscle strengthening. Pick something you enjoy doing so it’s more sustainable long term, and don’t be afraid to get the whole family involved as moving our bodies is great for everyone’s health, whether they have two legs or four! Take care of your heart now so you can be there for your loved ones in the future.

Written by University of Wyoming Extension- Nutrition and Food Safety Educator Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underlying Cause of Death, 1999–2018. CDC WONDER Online Database. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2018. Accessed March 12, 2020.
  2. Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: a report from the American Heart Associationexternal iconCirculation. 2020;141(9):e139–e596.
  3. Fryar CD, Chen T-C, Li X. Prevalence of uncontrolled risk factors for cardiovascular disease: United States, 1999–2010 pdf icon[PDF-494K]. NCHS data brief, no. 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2012. Accessed May 9, 2019.
  4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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