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Five Steps to a Healthier Heart

Know how to reduce your risk of heart disease


A Veteran having a chest exam

Each year, about 800,000 people die from heart disease. You have the power to reduce your risk of developing heart problems. You can start by taking five basic steps to improve your heart health.


  1. Step One: Know your heart health numbers

A Veteran having his blood pressure taken

Heart disease is also called cardiovascular disease. It includes high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery disease. Certain risk factors increase your chance of developing heart disease. Some risk factors you cannot control, such as your age, family, and gender. Risk factors you can control include diet, activity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. What you learn can help you be a better partner with your health care team. Sign in to Secure Messaging and talk with your health care team about changes you can make to help you reduce your risk and improve your heart health.

Know your heart health numbers:

  • Lipid profile: for high cholesterol, also known as hyperlipidemia

  • Blood glucose: for high blood sugar, also known as diabetes

  • Blood pressure: for high blood pressure also known as hypertension

  • Body Mass Index: for weight, being more than 20 pounds overweight, also known as obesity.

You can track or record most of these points using the Track Health feature in My HealtheVet.


  1. Step Two: Be active

A Veteran being active with his son

Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories. By exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk of heart disease. A first step you can make to improve your heart health is to start walking. If you need help, check out the VA MOVE! program to help with weight reduction.


  1. Step Three: Eat better

A Veteran making mindful decisions about his food choices

Heart healthy eating is simple; just eat what is good for your heart. Two ways to eat healthier is to read food labels and to eat the right balance of foods.

Healthier choices include:

  • Making vegetables and fruits about half of what you eat. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber - and they are also low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure

  • Eating more unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full

  • Eating fish at least twice a week

  • Choosing lean meats and poultry without skin

  • Selecting fat-free or low-fat dairy products

  • Choosing and preparing foods with little if any salt

  • Learning to put together a heart-healthy plate (PDF)


  1. Step Four: Maintain a healthy weight

A Veteran staying active

If you are overweight, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by losing weight and keeping it off.

If you have too much fat - especially at your waist - you are at higher risk for heart disease. Men should have a waist no larger than 40 inches, and women no larger than 35 inches.

You can start making healthy changes by:

  • Knowing your;Body Mass Index can help you gauge your body fatness. It is an easy way to check for excess weight.

  • Talking with your health care team about a fitness and food plan to help you lose weight and keep it off.


  1. Step Five: Quit smoking 

A Veteran happy that he quit smoking

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by:

  • lowering your ability to be active

  • increasing your risk for having a stroke

  • decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol

  • increasing your risk for peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysm

VA offers smoking cessation programs to help you be successful as a "quitter." Talk to your provider today about getting started.

Your health care team will work with you on your journey to healthy living. They will work with you on your eating habits, weight control, and exercise program. Make sure you talk to your provider about your risk for heart disease. Your provider may also include medications to keep you healthy. Talk with your health care team about taking that first step for heart health.

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Created April 7, 2021