3. Slash saturated fats.
Too much “bad” cholesterol can clog the heart and arteries with dangerous plaque.
It mostly comes from saturated and trans fats, found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried or processed foods. So cut back on these products and cut out trans fats completely (check ingredients lists for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” -- those are trans fats).
Adults should get a cholesterol blood test at least every 5 years. Your doctor should consider your other risk factors for heart disease when deciding what your goals should be.
4. Make a shift to avoid diabetes.
Over time, high blood sugar damages arteries and puts you at risk for heart disease. Your doctor should test your blood sugar if you are 45 or older, if you are pregnant, or if you're overweight and have other risk factors for diabetes.
If you have diabetes, work with your doctor on your lifestyle (diet and exercise) and any medicine that you may need. If you have borderline high blood sugar, also called prediabetes, take action now to turn things around.
One simple swap is to trade processed carbs (like white rice) for fiber-rich whole grains (like brown rice). In one study, that simple swap slashed diabetes risk by 36%.
5. Sit less and sweat more.
You should get at least 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate exercise, meaning any activity that gets you moving around and breaking a slight sweat. But really, every little bit counts.
“If you're doing nothing, do something -- and if you're doing something, do more," Lloyd-Jones says.
Also, pay attention to how much time you spend seated, whether it's at work, in your car, or on your couch at home.
"We now know that even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day, being sedentary for the other 23 and a half hours is really bad for your heart," says Monika Sanghavi, MD, assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
That doesn't mean you have to quit your desk job or throw away your favorite recliner. Break up long periods of sitting, and choose to stand or walk while doing things like talking on the phone or watching TV.