5 Worst Things You Can Do to Your Heart

Although heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., it's often an avoidable problem.

While some risk factors for heart disease, such as family history or age, can't be changed, there are many things you can do to prevent heart disease that aren't burdensome or complicated and will help you avoid using medication. Plus, the steps you take to maintain a healthy heart are good preventive measures for other serious illnesses, such as cancer, as well.

Here are five of the worst things you can do for your heart.

1. Smoking

Every puff you take dramatically increases your chances for suffering a heart attack. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals, many of which can damage your heart and blood vessels, making them vulnerable to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries).

2. Lack of regular exercise

Leading a sedentary lifestyle can result in atherosclerosis. Maintaining a regular exercise routine—at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity—most days of the week, can reduce your risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.

3. Eating a high-fat diet

Eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats raises cholesterol levels and puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke. To maintain a healthy heart, follow a diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, and salt and rich in fruits and vegetables (with a goal of between five and ten servings a day), whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Including foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, are also heart protective. Foods to eat very moderately include red meat, butter, cheese and milk, and very sparingly eat foods such as deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarines, and crackers.

4. Excessive drinking

Despite studies showing heart protective benefits of drinking red wine, excessive amounts of any alcohol—wine, beer, or hard liquor—can raise blood pressure and become a health hazard. Stick to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

5. Being overweight or obese

Excess pounds increase your chances for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Having a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or higher, puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Stay Heart Healthy

Aging, genetics, and lifestyle choices all affect the health of your heart. To determine your risk factors for heart disease, ask your doctor to assess your risk factors and be sure to maintain regular health screenings, including blood pressure and cholesterol level tests.