We’ve all read or heard the statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013 – that’s about 1 in every 4 female deaths.

Although we are unable to change some risk factors, such as family history, there are several key heart disease prevention steps you can take to reduce your risk.  You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle today.



Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease.  Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup that ultimately leads to a heart attack.  If you smoke and would like to quit, visit the American Cancer Society’s website – www.cancer.org – for smoking cessation information and resources.   


Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can reduce your risk of heart disease.  Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chance of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

I always tell my patients to not have lofty expectations and to start slow with a walk to the mailbox during a television commercial break.  A daily walk outside for 10 minutes and increasing the length of your walk over time will make a big difference, and most importantly, make you feel good.


A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart.  Eating beans, low-fat or

fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish is also helpful.  Avoid too much salt and sugars, and limit or avoid saturated fat and trans fat.

Moderation is important.  It’s okay to eat a steak once in a while.  If you choose to drink alcohol, one drink (defined as 12 ounces) a day for adult women is the recommendation.  At that moderate level, alcohol may have a protective effect on your heart.  Too much alcohol can become a health hazard.


Annual visits to your primary care physician are important.  Primary care physicians are the first providers who drive your healthcare and can refer you to specialists who can diagnose and slow down disease progression.

Regular check-ups to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with diabetes screening, are extremely important.  These screenings can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.

In addition, it’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, get enough quality sleep, and manage your stress in healthy ways (i.e. physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation).

I know what you’re thinking.  You know all of this, but it is nearly impossible to fully commit to right now with your schedule and long list of responsibilities you juggle each day.  I get it.  Taking time for self-care, let alone a heart healthy lifestyle plan, can be challenging, but it’s something all of us must make time for to be our best selves for our own health and the families who depend on us.

Elvia Gabriel

A Daytona Beach native, Elvia Gabriel, ARNP-BC, is the nurse practitioner for the vascular surgery service at University of Florida Health Heart and Vascular Surgery at Halifax Health - a vascular surgical center in the region. Elvia is passionate about personalized care for her patients and ensuring each patient and their family has access to the answers they need to make an informed decision about healthcare needs. To learn more about the UF Health Heart and Vascular Surgery Center at Halifax Health, visit www.halifaxhealth.org/ufhealth.