Reducing Your Risk

The best way to lower your risk is to raise your awareness. Understanding how different health habits affect your heart – positively or negatively – puts you in control. Of course, there are some risk factors that you cannot control, such as getting older, your family history (heart disease in your father or brother before age 55, mother or sister before age 65) or race (highest risk for African-American women). But just being aware of these risk factors can be beneficial if it motivates you to lower your risk in other areas. Learn more about the Swedish Center for Health and Fitness.

Don't smoke

A woman who smokes puts herself at as much as a six-times-higher risk for a heart attack than a nonsmoking woman. Using birth-control pills compounds the risk. Consider entering a stop-smoking program.

Maintain a healthy weight

The risk of heart disease is two to three times higher for women who are overweight – especially if the extra pounds are concentrated around the waist. Consider a weight-loss program.

Eat and drink sensibly

Watch what you put into your body. Specifically, choose low-fat, fiber-rich foods with no more than 30 percent of daily total calories from fat. Eat one to two meals each week high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, trout, canola oil, soybeans, flaxseed, walnuts and wheat germ). Also, limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.

Get your exercise

Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, three to four days each week. Some especially beneficial activities include: brisk walking, stair climbing, bicycling, rowing, swimming and activities that include continuous running.

Lower your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol

About 25 percent of American women have blood-cholesterol levels that put them at risk for heart disease. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be no higher than 200 mg/dL. Your HDL (good cholesterol) should be at least 40 mg/dL. A healthy diet, exercise and not smoking are important factors in maintaining proper cholesterol levels.

Manage diabetes

If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to keep it in check. Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths because chronic high blood sugar is associated with narrowing of the arteries, increased blood levels of triglycerides, decreased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart attack. Adults with diabetes have cardiovascular death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes. The Swedish Diabetes Education Center provides the self-management education that people need to successfully manage their diabetes and reduce their risk of complications.

Get regular screenings

Make complete blood workups and cholesterol screenings a part of your yearly physical exam. And get blood-pressure checks at least every two years.