University of Florida

Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. The most common type of heart disease—coronary heart disease—often manifests as heart attacks.

While these statistics may sound intimidating, you can reduce your chance of developing heart disease by taking steps to control and prevent certain risk factors.

Heart Disease

When people refer to heart disease, they are most likely 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." These 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

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

  • Chest discomfort: Feeling 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: Feeling pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath: This can occur with or without chest pain.
  • Other signs: Cold sweat, nausea, or dizziness.


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:

  • Check your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin.
  • Know 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

Keep yourself and your loved ones heart-healthy with these cooking ideas for family meals.

  • Enjoy a breakfast of oatmeal with fat-free milk, chopped apples, 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.
  • Go for a family walk after dinner.
  • Add fruits, such as mandarin oranges, grapes, or sliced strawberries, to a salad.
  • Exercise your insides—laugh at least once a day.
  • Cook with heart-healthy oils, such as olive oil or canola oil. Then, mix them with red vinegar for a heart-healthy salad dressing.

For more healthy living ideas and tips, contact your local Extension office and your medical provider.

Adapted and excerpted from:

"Keep Your Heart Healthy,", National Health Information Center (rev. 10/2014).

"February is American Heart Month," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (rev. 02/2014).

L. B. Bobroff, “Nutrition for Health and Fitness: Fat in Your Diet” (FCS8128), UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (rev. 04/2011).

Heart cut out of an apple

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