You can be a huge help to your heart. Personal and family history affect your risk of heart disease. However, your lifestyle choices have a lot to do with raising or lowering risk factors.

Make it a point to visit your Inova physician to monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and other factors that can increase your risk. Learn more below about preventing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Take a Heart Health Risk Assessment

How healthy do you think your heart is? Are you under a lot of stress? The Heart Risk Assessment can tell you if your lifestyle is increasing your chances of developing heart disease.

Steps to a Healthier Heart:

Better food habits can help you live healthier. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of foods daily from all of the basic food groups, but especially whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Keep fat intake low. Read labels and choose foods and cooking methods that provide 30 percent or fewer calories from fats.

If results of a blood test show that you have an elevated cholesterol level, you have an increased risk of heart disease. Have your cholesterol checked regularly.

Smokers have twice the risk of heart disease of non-smokers. Moreover, the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco also increase risk, although to a lesser degree.

Among other things, smoking encourages the development of atherosclerosis (fatty plaque) in the blood vessels. It also decreases the good cholesterol (high density lipoproteins or HDL) and increases the tendency for blood to clot inside blood vessels and cause blockages.

Learn More about Inova's Smoking Cessation Program

When left untreated, high blood pressure causes the heart muscle to weaken because it must constantly work harder against the increased resistance in the blood vessels. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart failure. It accelerates the development of coronary artery narrowing and increases the risk of heart attacks. It also increases the risk of strokes, kidney damage and aneurysms.

Physical activity is a prime example of how risk-reducing behaviors have multiple benefits. In addition to improving cardiovascular health, regular exercise promotes weight loss, helps lower blood pressure, and enhances the body's ability to eliminate cholesterol and other fatty substances. It even reduces the lifestyle-limiting effects of osteoporosis and arthritis, improves mental health and helps us remain independent as we age, improving the quality of life.

Cardiovascular health has an emotional component. If you're constantly under pressure, coping with anxiety, dealing with people or things that upset you, your body feels it. If it gets to be more than you can handle, your body suffers (emotionally and physically). And, if you're already at risk for developing heart disease, you need to find ways to lower the impact of stress in your everyday life.

Diabetes is responsible for several health complications, including an increased risk for heart disease. Diabetes seems to accelerate the narrowing of blood vessels. Unfortunately, the symptoms of heart disease in many people with diabetes are less easily noticed because the disease affects nerve endings that can cause pain and discomfort. Therefore, aggressive efforts to prevent and diagnose diabetes and heart disease in diabetics are extremely important.