• More than 50% of US adults do not know that heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to new research.
  • Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the US for 100 years.
  • There are many ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, including exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and keeping a healthy weight.

New research has found that more than half of US adults don’t know heart disease is the leading cause of death.

51% of respondents in a 2023 Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of the American Heart Association did not identify heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US.

This is despite the fact that it’s been the leading cause of death for the past 100 years, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.

Only 49% of people named heart disease as the leading cause of death. Meanwhile, 16% said they didn’t know the leading cause, and 18% listed cancer as the top cause of death.

Heart disease is used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart, including arrhythmia, atherosclerosiscardiomyopathy, and congenital heart defects.

However, health experts say the following are six simple ways you can help reduce your risk.

Know your risk

Knowing your risk can be an important first step in reducing it. Dr. Norman Lepor, cardiologist and director of the National Heart Institute, says physicians will look at several factors to determine your heart disease risk – and you might like to consider these, too.

Your cholesterol levels, family history, and other risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and smoking can all impact your heart disease risk.

“A simple and inexpensive test called a coronary calcium scan can further improve our ability to assess an individual’s risk of coronary heart disease,” Lepor adds.

Eat a healthy diet

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that eating well can reduce your risk of heart disease.

“A heart-healthy diet consists of whole and unprocessed foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables,” says Dr. Rohit Vuppuluri, a double-board certified interventional cardiologist.

“Also vitally important is limiting saturated and trans fats, found in processed and deep fried foods”

The good news is you don’t have to follow a “fancy” diet.

Lepor says a diet like the Mediterranean diet with healthy protein sources and relatively low carbohydrates is best.

In a 2022 studyTrusted Source, adherence to a Mediterranean diet and healthful lifestyle was associated with a more than 50% lower rate of all-causes mortality — including heart disease.

“You can also reduce your intake of saturated fats and increase your intake of foods that have “good” fats such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish,” he adds.

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity is a strong risk factor for heart disease as it increases other heart health risk factors.

“High blood pressure and high bad cholesterol (LDL) go hand-in-hand and are both commonly seen in obese patients,” explains Vuppuluri. “Type 2 diabetes is also seen in obese patients due to increased insulin resistance.”

Past researchTrusted Source has found that for every 5-unit increase in BMI, there is a 29% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), which drops to 16% after adjustment for blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Losing weight can be difficult, but Vuppuluri says a good approach is to set realistic goals.

“Simply setting weekly 1-2 pound goals can help you achieve your ultimate goal while staying on a program,” he notes. “Overall, eating a healthy diet and following a regular exercise routine will also help you reach your goals.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is vital for maintaining and improving cardiovascular health.

In fact, in a 2023 study, regular physical exercise was significantly linked with reducedwsdfghjkl;’ risks of all-cause mortality and recurrent vascular events in patients with heart disease.

Vuppuluri says this is because regular moderate-intensity exercise lowers blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. It also regulates blood sugar and helps with healthy weight management.

Not enamored with grueling gym sessions or punishing exercise routines? Lepor says you don’t need to follow an exercise regime that feels overly challenging.

“The American Heart Association now recommendsTrusted Source 150 minutes of exercise per week. This includes aerobic and weight-bearing exercises such as the use of lightweight dumbbells,” he points out.

Lepor says walking and swimming are great options, too. Most forms of exercise will offer heart health benefits, so the most important thing is finding an exercise regime you enjoy and can stick to.

Quit smoking

Smoking cigarettes may not only damage your lungs, it’s detrimental to your heart health, too.

2020 reviewTrusted Source notes that smoking increases mortality from all causes and has a crucial role in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

“Cigarettes are extremely bad for the heart because they damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of plaque buildup,” Vuppuluri explains. “Together, these two factors significantly increase your risk of future heart attacks.”

Of course, cigarettes are addictive, and quitting isn’t easy. Vuppuluri suggests slowly cutting back rather than quitting cold turkey.

Additionally, he says nicotine gum and lozenges can reduce your urge to smoke.

Decrease stress

Stress is a natural by-product of the busy world we live in, but too much stress can have a knock-on effect on your cardiovascular health and, in turn, increase your risk of heart disease.

2017 studyTrusted Source identified emotional stress as a predictor of cardiovascular disease events.

“Lifestyles that are high in stress, whether from work, personal, or socioeconomic factors, can increase blood pressure, inflammation, and the risk of cardiac arrhythmias as well,” explains Vuppuluri.

It’s difficult to eradicate stress completely, but you can find ways to better manage it. Relieving stress can be as simple as writing down your worries and fears or sharing them with a trusted friend.

It can also look like taking more breaks throughout the day or setting time aside for rest and recuperation.

Finding hobbies that provide stress relief is especially beneficial.

Vuppuluri recommends making movement a part of your daily routine. Not only is it great for risk factors like being overweight and having high cholesterol levels, but it can also lead to improved mental health.

Other stress management techniques he recommends include meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and keeping a supportive social network.


Heart disease may be the leading cause of death in the United States, but fortunately, there are lots of simple things you can do to reduce your risk, like exercising regularly, eating well, quitting smoking, and managing stress.