In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
Cholesterol isn't the only thing that matters. Your doctor will consider the big picture, including all your potential risks. To help lower cholesterol levels, eat a diet low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and refined sugars.
4. Get active. People who don't exercise are more likely to get heart disease, and die from it, than people who are active. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you aren't active now. She can tell you what you can do.
5. Follow a heart-healthy diet. Eat foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Just about everyone should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and other plant-based foods. The fiber is good for your cholesterol, and you'll get vitamins the natural way, from foods.
You can still eat fish (especially salmon or tuna, which are high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and meat, but make it lean and keep the portions modest. Also limit salt and sugar. Most people get too much of both.
7. Control diabetes. Diabetes makes heart disease more likely. Many people who have diabetes don't know it. Get tested and get treated.
8. Manage stress and anger. Everyone has stress, and it's normal to get angry now and then. When stress and anger flare up, especially if it happens a lot, that's a problem. Managing your stress and handling your anger in healthy ways puts you back in charge.