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The Importance of Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Over 610,000 people die every year from this condition, so maintaining your heart health is essential. Those who suffer from blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are at a greater risk of developing dangerous heart problems. These risk factors are often preventable if you exercise regularly and maintain a heart-healthy diet. 
Looking after your heart as you age can reduce the risk of developing heart disease or heart failure. Heart attack and stroke may also occur when the heart’s blood vessels narrow or become blocked by cholesterol plaques. Keeping your blood pressure down allows your blood vessels to carry blood to other parts of the body properly. If your heart is not pumping sufficiently, you may require medications like Lasix (furosemide), Diovan (valsartan), triamterene/HCTZ, Aldactone (spironolactone), or Inderal (propranolol hydrochloride).
You should focus on your heart health long before you experience high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you do end up needing medications, there are several things you can do to keep further cardiac complications at bay. Read on to learn about tips in managing your heart health. 
When people are young and healthy, it is easy to take their heart health for granted. It is essential to participate in healthy activities in your 20s and 30s before any problems occur in older adulthood. To get on top of your health, you can:
Find a doctor: Many people neglect their health when they are young. This is often due to financial factors and the inability to get healthcare. If you can get a general physician in your 20s, you can begin to monitor your heart. Just because someone is young doesn’t mean that they are healthy, so it is important to discuss your diet, lifestyle, cholesterol, and blood pressure with your doctor. The unhealthy lifestyle choices you make in your youth may catch up to you in the future and lead to conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
Make it a family affair: If you are a parent in your 30s or 40s, you can pass along heart-healthy habits to your children. For example, parents can plant a vegetable and fruit garden with their children and encourage them to cook with fresh produce. If children learn these habits early, they will be more likely to keep these habits into adulthood. 
Watch Your Sodium
Excessive sodium can increase your risk of heart problems. High sodium can raise blood pressure and lead to the development of heart disease and stroke. If you have cardiac problems, your doctor will encourage you to track your salt intake. Around 70 percent of the sodium people consume comes from packaged or prepared food. Even if you are not using the salt shaker, you likely consume more sodium than you realize. High-sodium foods include:
- Frozen breaded meats and dinners
- Salted nuts
- Canned beans
- Canned entrees (ravioli, spam, and chili)
- Smoked or cured meat
- Bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage
Most doctors recommend less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day.  Those suffering from high blood pressure or heart failure may suffer from edema, which is a swelling of the body's tissues. When there is too much sodium in the body, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing edema's severity. This buildup of extra fluid can damage the blood vessels and lead to bloating or weight gain. 
Pay Attention at the Dinner Table
Reducing sodium is an essential part of a heart-healthy diet plan, but many people may not know how to implement these tips. The first thing you can do is get in the habit of reading food labels. Examining food labels will help you determine sodium and calories in a pre-made meal or can of beans. Ideally, low sodium foods have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. 
There are also many salt substitutes you can try that are made from potassium. Talk to your doctor before consuming potassium because a low-potassium diet is recommended for some people with heart problems. If you are unsure how to season your food without using excessive salt, you can get creative with spices, herbs, garlic, ginger, vinegar, or pepper. More tips for mealtime include:
- Eat meals that are made from scratch. Homemade foods are naturally lower in sodium than pre-prepared or frozen meals.
- Remove the salt shaker from the table.
- Make foods ready-to-eat. Cut up vegetables and fruit and store them in the fridge so you can reach for them when you want a snack.
- Meal prep for the entire week so you can reheat healthy leftovers instead of eating out.
- If you're still hungry after dinner, drink a large glass of water or fill up on servings of vegetables. 
Cut out Cigarettes
Smoking cigarettes can cause several problems in the body. The effects of cigarette smoking account for over 480,000 deaths in the United States every year. Over time, cigarette smoking can increase your heart rate and tighten major arteries. The chemicals in cigarettes can increase your blood pressure, making your heart work harder. If you smoke and engage in other unhealthy activities like a high-fat diet, you are at an increased risk of developing serious heart problems.
Tar and carbon monoxide within cigarettes are harmful to your heart and lead to a buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries. No amount of smoking is safe. Smoking occasionally can still damage your blood vessels and heart. Secondhand smoke can cause breathing problems for those who don't even smoke. Secondhand smoke can raise the bad cholesterol in nonsmokers, which can cause respiratory distress and increase the rate of asthma. 
Drinking can cause several problems in the body. If you drink large amounts of alcohol, you could develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy. This occurs when the heart muscle weakens after several years of four or five drinks a day. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks in one session for women and five or more drinks for men.
Excessive drinking can increase blood pressure and lead to an irregular heart rhythm, like atrial fibrillation. An irregular heartbeat can significantly increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. If you do drink excessively, it is recommended to reduce your intake to prolong your heart's health.
If you have a compromised cardiovascular system, cutting out alcohol is the best option. If you can’t give up cold turkey, you can slowly reduce your intake or consume non-alcoholic beer or wine instead. 
The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.