Can You Reverse Heart Disease?

A diagnosis of heart disease can be frightening. But did you know that with some simple lifestyle changes, you can get back on the road to better cardiovascular health? Follow these tips from Life's Simple 7 program, designed by the American Heart Association (AHA):

1. Get active. Exercise reduces heart attack risk by up to 50 percent. If you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day (such as brisk walking), five times per week, you can almost guarantee a healthier life while lowering your risks for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Once you're used to regular exercise, increase the amount you do to 45 minutes four or five times per week.

2. Control cholesterol. If your cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher, it's time to take action. High cholesterol can lead to blocked arteries, high blood pressure, and a heart attack. It can also cause blood vessels to become less flexible, which reduces circulation around the body. Choose healthy foods that are low in cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats, including lots of fruits and veggies and high-fiber foods. Ask your doctor if you need cholesterol-reducing medication.

3. Eat better. When you eat a heart-healthy diet that's low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars and choose foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, you improve your heart and overall health. Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, cardiologist and author of the book, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease (Ballantine Books, 1990) recommends eating a primarily plant-based diet.  

4. Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys. High blood pressure can be reduced with exercise, diet modifications, stress management, smoking cessation, and medication.

5. Lose weight. People who are overweight are at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other significant health problems. By losing weight, you reduce the amount of work your heart has to do and the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and skeleton.

6. Reduce blood sugar. If your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you're in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes, which causes significant damage to the cardiovascular system.  By reducing consumption of simple sugars such as candy, sweetened foods, soda, and processed foods like white flour and sugar; and adding exercise and healthy foods, you lower your risk for diabetes. If you already have diabetes, taking medications may be necessary to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

7. Quit smoking. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system  and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysms, and blood clots. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.

Don't forget about stress reduction. Cardiologists recommend practicing meditation, yoga, or other stress-reducing activities, which have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and improve overall health. In addition, make sleep a priority to allow your body to heal and repair cell damage.  

By practicing the AHA's seven simple guidelines and following your physician's recommendations for managing your cardiovascular health, you can begin the process of reversing heart disease today.  


American Heart Association
Life's Simple Seven Heart Health Factors