Do you smoke even a little? If so, know this: “Smoking even a single cigarette can induce changes that lead to a heart attack,” Gianos says. Lighting up increases your risk of atherosclerosis, raises your chances of blood clots, reduces blood flow and puts you at increased risk for stroke. But it’s never too late to quit and start reversing the damage. “Heart disease risk goes down 50% in the first year [after quitting] and becomes equivalent to a nonsmoker after 10 years,” Gianos says.
There’s no doubt that exercise is essential for a strong heart. One 2018 study published in the journal Circulation found that physical activity can even counteract a genetic risk for heart disease. The researchers looked at 500,000 men and women in the U.K. and found that those at the highest risk of heart troubles who had high levels of physical fitness had a 49% lower risk of coronary heart disease. While the AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, Gianos urges 30 to 60 minutes every day. Overall the goal is to move daily, but don’t feel you have to run 20 miles a day. “Extreme exercise has not been noted to be protective,” Gianos says, “and it may add some harm.”