Reducing Your Risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
by Michelle Badash, MS
There are a variety of issues that can contribute to CAD and fortunately many of the risk factors can be managed or avoided. The more factors you control, the more you reduce your risk of CAD.
Aim for a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, adopt a sensible eating plan. Exercise regularly to lose weight gradually, and maintain your weight at the desired level. Consider consulting with a dietitian who can help you with meal planning and portion sizing.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke contribute to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis. It also irritates the lining of the blood vessels which can cause further damage.
Quitting smoking is the best way to put yourself on the right track. Talk with your doctor about tools and programs to help you quit. Secondhand smoke can be damaging as well.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Excess alcohol intake is also associated with an increased risk of CAD. If you drink alcohol, aim for moderation. Moderate alcohol intake means 2 drinks or less a day for men, and 1 drink a day or less for women. Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may help increase the beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which may help reduce plaque build-up.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Your diet can have a significant impact on your "bad" and "good" cholesterol levels. Managing your cholesterol levels with a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk for CAD by reducing the amount of plaque build-up.
A well-balanced diet includes plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts. Also consider substituting bad fats for good fats. This means eating more mono- or polyunsaturated fats like olive and canola oils, and less saturated and trans fats which can raise the levels of bad cholesterol.
Foods to consider limiting or avoiding include:
Control Blood Glucose Levels If You have Diabetes
High blood glucose levels can cause damage to smaller blood vessels and contribute to atherosclerosis. Managing blood glucose levels can reduce the risk or delay onset of CAD for people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to develop a plan to manage your blood glucose levels.
Maintain Normal Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major cause of CAD. Dietary changes, regular exercise, and medications can help you control your blood pressure. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, adhere to the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. Stay in contact with your medical team and have your blood pressure tested regularly.
Too much sodium has also been linked to high blood pressure. Aim for sodium levels less than 2,300 mg per day. Read food labels to find the hidden sodium in your diet in addition to limiting use of table salt.
The DASH diet is a plan designed to help reduce blood pressure.
Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill, can help reduce the risk of heart disease including CAD. In general, it is recommended that you exercise at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. If you have a sedentary job, it may be beneficial to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Overall, exercise will help strengthen the heart muscle, decrease the heart's workload, and lower blood pressure.
Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
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Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC