The researchers found that the healthier habits that you can develop the better, even if you have a high genetic risk for cardiovascular disease. As your healthy habits go up, heart disease events such as heart attacks, bypass surgery, and cardiovascular death go down.

Lower your heart disease risk

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It is true – if your parents had heart disease, you might be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, as it is still the number one killer in this country. However, having heart disease in the family does not necessarily mean that you will get heart disease.

Researchers looked at four studies that followed thousands of adults, evaluating four controllable lifestyle risk factors and the development of heart disease. Those four were:

  • Not smoking
  • Staying lean
  • Physical activity
  • Healthy diet

Features of a healthy diet included:

  • Eating more:
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Nuts: almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts
    • Whole-grains: oats, barley, brown rice, faro, whole-grain pasta
    • Fish: sardines, salmon, tuna, halibut, cod, etc.
    • Dairy products
  • Eating less:
    • Processed grains and snack foods – white rice, snack crackers, etc.
    • Red meats
    • Processed meats: bacon, sausage, hotdogs, luncheon meats
    • Sugary beverages – sweet tea, sweet sodas, etc.

The researchers found that the healthier habits that you can develop the better, even if you have a high genetic risk for cardiovascular disease. As your healthy habits go up, heart disease events such as heart attacks, bypass surgery, and cardiovascular death go down.

The big message from this study is that even if you have a genetic risk for heart disease, even a high risk, you can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes. There was a 46% reduction in coronary events in those at high genetic risk who made some changes. And the changes are not huge.

  • Avoid getting into the obese category.
  • Physical activity at even once a week offered some protection from a vascular event.
  • Of course, no smoking.
  • More of a plant-based diet, with fewer processed grains, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and sodium. Try a homemade black bean soup rather than just opening a canned product that has almost all of your daily sodium in one serving, or packing a peanut butter sandwich rather than the usual bologna sandwich.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.