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This is the #1 Cause of Death and Here's How to Avoid it 

Experts reveal how to help prevent the leading cause of death in the United States. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "One person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease," and adds, "Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 382,820 people in 2020." While the statistics are grim, heart disease isn't a given. While there are certain risk factors like age and family history you can't change, there are lifestyle choices and health habits that can help avoid heart disease. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share how to prevent heart disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Heart Disease

doctor holding heart

Eric Stahl, MD Non-Invasive Cardiologist at Staten Island University Hospital says, "Heart disease is the leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic groups in the USA. Within heart disease, coronary artery disease due to atherosclerosis is most common. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the arteries. The process starts in the second and third decade of life as a result of high cholesterol, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus."

Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, Urgent Care Medical Director and Physician, Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital tells us, "According to the CDC, the number one cause of death in America is heart disease (696,962 deaths). It's important to note, there are several types of heart disease and unfortunately, they're not always associated with warning signs – which contributes to the number of deaths each year. Anyone can develop heart disease. That's why it's super important to be mindful of your health and decrease your risks."


Many People Don't Realize They Have Heart Disease

closeup man's chest heart attack

Dr. Stahl explains, "For many, heart attacks are the first realization that they have heart disease. Atherosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease progress over decades without symptoms. As hypertension, diabetes, and obesity become more prevalent, more people suffer from the downstream effect of heart disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 697,000 people in the USA will die of heart disease in 2020. Heart disease accounts for about 1 in every 5 deaths. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and accounted for approximately 383,000 deaths in 2020. About 20.1 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease." 


See Your Physician Regularly

Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.

Dr. Stahl reminds us, "It is important to get regular blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screening. Everyone over the age of 20 should undergo screening at least every 5 years." 

Dr. Curry-Winchell urges, "Get a check-up! There are some warning signs of heart disease such as chest, neck, or shoulder pain, however, not everyone will have symptoms. Some conditions like hypertension and elevated cholesterol might not be associated with any symptoms — often referred to as the, 'Silent Killer." 


Know your Family Health History

Businesswoman coughing while having coffee break in the office.

Dr. Curry-Winchell says, "You are more likely to develop specific diseases, including heart disease if someone in your family has it, or has had it. Be sure to share this information with your healthcare provider. The info you share could help identify heart disease at an early stage or decrease your risks for developing it."


Quit Smoking

no smoking sign

Dr. Stahl reminds us, "Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the USA. On average, smokers die more than 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Smoking and the inhalation of dangerous toxins increases cholesterol, promotes atherosclerosis, raises blood pressure, and causes narrowing of arteries." 

Dr. Curry-Winchell adds, "Your body responds to nicotine by raising your blood pressure. Simply put, an elevated blood pressure throughout the day and for an extended period increases your risks for developing heart disease."


Screen and Treat Hypertension

high blood pressure

Dr. Stahl suggests, "All adults should undergo routine blood pressure screening to prevent unrecognized and uncontrolled hypertension. Left untreated, hypertension or often called the "silent killer", causes significant downstream effects, particularly on the cardiovascular system."   


Increase Physical Activity

mature couple jogging outdoors

Dr. Curry-Winchell states, "Staying active is key! Whether it's a walk around your neighborhood or spending time in the gym, both can help decrease your risks for developing heart disease by lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure."

Dr. Stahl shares, "Being active is an important aspect of a heart healthy lifestyle. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes per week of high-intensity exercise." 


Improve Diet

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

Dr. Curry-Winchell tells us, "Incorporating heart healthy foods such as beans, berries, and a good amount of green leafy vegetables into your diet can do a lot! They all have antioxidants and vitamin K which helps protect against inflammation and decreases your blood pressure – all contributing factors of developing heart disease."

According to Dr. Stahl, "Following the Mediterranean diet is an excellent foundation for a heart healthy lifestyle. This diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish. Olive oil should be the primary fat source. The foods to avoid are those high in sodium, added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fat." 


Lose Weight

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

Dr. Stahl emphasizes, "Maintaining a healthy weight has numerous cardiovascular benefits. If you are overweight or obese, modest weight loss lowers the risk for developing heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Make small attainable goals by eating healthier and being more active."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather