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Heart disease is the leading cause of death. Some heart disease risk factors are hereditary, but there are 10 key lifestyle choices you can make to keep your heart healthy.
Smoking or using tobacco is the one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease, according to MayoClinic.com. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. If you already smoke, it isn't too late: Your risk of heart disease drops within one year of quitting smoking.
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the chances of developing other conditions that can put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Exercise such as walking, biking, dancing, stair climbing, swimming, jogging and even gardening can also reduce stress, which might also be a factor in heart disease.
A low-fat diet can help you maintain low cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Eat lean meats and fish instead of fatty cuts of meat. Replace butter, lard and hydrogenated oils with heart-healthy olive oil. Reduce your intake of high-fat dairy products like cheese, ice cream, and whole milk and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables -- doing so can help prevent heart disease, according to MayoClinic.com.
Eat More Fiber
Add soluble fiber to your diet by eating more oats, whole-grain rice and bran. Beans and potatoes are also healthful foods that are high in fiber. Avoid processed forms of fiber such as powders and mixes; some of them contain large amounts of sugar. When you eat more fiber, be sure to drink more water to prevent constipation.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
At low levels, alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart, but moderation is key: A moderate, heart-healthy amount of alcohol is no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.
Indulge in Antioxidants
Antioxidants protect your body at the cellular level from the harmful effects of the environment. Bright and dark-colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, kale, spinach and mangoes are high in antioxidants. Dark chocolate, which contains heart-healthy flavonoids, is also good for you in moderation.
Lower Your Insulin Levels
Reduce or omit simple, "white" grains from your diet to avoid insulin level spikes and subsequent rapid crashes. Replace white bread and white rice with whole grains, brown rice and quinoa. Replace highly processed, high-sugar cereals with oatmeal.
Get Regular Health Screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels, but the only way to know your levels is to be tested. Get your blood pressure checked at least every two years, more frequently if your numbers aren't within a healthy range. Get your cholesterol checked at least once every five years.
Maintain Healthy Relationships
Maintaining a strong social and family network can help prevent heart disease. Engage in social activities with peers and stay connected with family members. If you need support with your health goals, attend a support group or join a walking club.
Poor sleep can contribute to heart disease, and heart disease can disturb sleep. Harvard Medical School suggests the following practices to improve your sleep habits: Go to bed and get up at the same time each day; use your bed only for sleeping and sex; avoid or reduce caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.