University of Florida

Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, which often manifests as heart attacks. The good news is that your chance of developing heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to control and prevent certain risk factors.

Heart Disease

When people refer to heart disease, they usually are talking about coronary heart disease (CHD). When someone has CHD, his or her arteries are narrowed or blocked by a buildup of cholesterol and fatty material, called "plaque." Blocked arteries can cause chest pain or heart attacks.

Risk Factors

Your chance of developing heart disease is increased by the following:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Age (women over 55; men over 45)
  • Family history of heart disease

Heart Attack Symptoms

Different people have different symptoms for heart attacks, but these signs could mean you are having a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort. This can be pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can be pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest pain.
  • Other signs. These include cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

Prevention

The good news is that heart disease can be prevented. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is your best method for combating heart disease.

To lower your risk of heart disease, consider doing the following:

  • Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin.
  • Keep track of your family medical history and give that information to your medical provider.
  • Eat healthy and watch your weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Manage stress.
  • Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Heart-Healthy Tips

Try these cooking ideas for family meals to keep yourself and your loved ones heart-healthy.

  • Enjoy a breakfast of oatmeal with fat-free milk, chopped apple, and cinnamon.
  • Cut soft whole-wheat bread with cookie cutters for fun, healthy sandwiches for kids.
  • Keep ready-to-eat vegetables in your fridge for quick snacks, such as baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber rounds, and sliced peppers.
  • Bake chicken or fish with your favorite salsa for a quick meal.
  • Exercise with a family walk after dinner.
  • Add mandarin oranges, sliced strawberries, or other fruit to a salad.
  • Exercise your insides: laugh at least once a day.
  • Cook with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil. Mix them with red vinegar for a heart-healthy salad dressing.

You can get more healthy living ideas and tips from your local Extension agent and your medical provider.

Adapted and excerpted from:

L. Bobroff, "10 Heart-Healthy Ways to Show Your Family You Love Them," Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences (2009).

"Keep Your Heart Healthy," Healthfinder.gov, National Health Information Center (accessed 02/2013).

"February is American Heart Month," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (02/2013; accessed 02/2013).

Heart cut out of an apple

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