Twenty five heart-shaped bowls are shown holding different kinds of super foods.
Super foods high in fiber and low in saturated fats help protect your heart from everyday damage. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Your heart is an extraordinary part of your body. It pumps blood that provides your body with oxygen and nutrients.

When you don’t protect your heart by living a healthy lifestyle, heart disease is more likely to happen.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. That doesn’t mean, however, you have to accept this as your fate.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight against it. Take advantage of them. Here are some key steps you can take to guard your heart.

Let’s go with plants

Include more vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and nuts. Following a vegetarian diet results in the consumption of less saturated fat, and more fiber and phytochemicals.

Increase your fiber

Eating the right amount of fiber will protect your heart by lowering bad cholesterol. Fiber also plays an important role in keeping you full for a longer period of time.

The type of fat counts

Instead of eating fats found in red meat, deep-fried fast food, bakery products and packaged foods, include healthy fats found in avocados, olive oil, canola oil, legumes, whole grains and seeds.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess body weight leads to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease. Studies have shown that a weight reduction as low as 5 to 10 percent can help you decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and risk of diabetes. This means that an individual who weighs 200 pounds will benefit greatly from losing 10 to 20 pounds.

Increase physical activity

Physical activity will help you maintain your weight and reduce the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or high blood sugar, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.

Stress management

Managing stress benefits your overall health. When you feel your stress level rising, take time to find the source of your stress and face it with a positive attitude. Simply recognizing which stressors are under your control, and which are not can make a big difference.

As you get to know what is causing you stress, aim to better manage it by doing something you love, managing your time, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Lastly don’t be afraid to share and talk about your problems with your family and friends. They may have solutions you have not yet considered.

Whether you are facing a crisis or managing the day-to-day challenges of fast-paced living, take time to take care for yourself.

Don’t let your heart be defeated. Follow a healthy lifestyle to win the battle.

Remember: Guard your heart because everything you do flows from it.

Sign up for a healthy lifestyles class or learn about preventive cardiology services to get started on a heart-healthy path.