There’s no way to guarantee you won’t have a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death of in the U.S. for both men and women, with a heart attack occurring every 40 seconds somewhere in the nation.
But that doesn’t mean you are powerless to stop them. There are some factors (including genetics and age) that are beyond your control. But there are many things you can do to reduce your risk. They all revolve around taking care of yourself and striving to live a healthier life. They include:
1. Cut Out Smoking or Tobacco Use
One of the most important heart-healthy steps you can take is to stop smoking and avoid being around second-hand smoke. Chemicals in tobacco can cause damage to both your heart and blood vessels. It also increases your levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which can cause a narrowing of your blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. Smoking also reduces the oxygen levels in your blood, forcing your heart to work harder and raising your blood pressure.
You can quickly reap the benefits of stopping smoking. In fact, your heart attack risk may start dropping the next day. And a year later, your risk will be half of what it was when you were smoking.
2. Get Up and Get Moving
Regular physical exercise has multiple benefits for you and your heart. It releases endorphins that keep you happy and motivated. It also helps keep your weight down, which can lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart’s workload. But also, it can reduce your risk for other heart-threatening conditions, including diabetes and high cholesterol.
Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day. The goal is moderate aerobic exercise. You have many options, including a treadmill, exercise bike or even just a brisk walk around the neighborhood. If you haven’t been active for a while, you may need to start slow.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
There are many diet plans out there. Perhaps the best for heart patients is the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on foods that will reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. The diet focuses on:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy
- Olive oil and other healthy fats
It also limits:
- Sugar and sugary beverages
- Refined carbohydrates (including white bread and pastries)
- Saturated fats
- Processed meats
4. Keep Your Weight Down
Being overweight can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other heart-threatening conditions. One way to measure this is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which uses your weight and height to calculate if you are overweight. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight and a risk factor for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Another way to look at it is to simply observe your waist. If your stomach is protruding and walking ahead of you, you probably need to lose some weight.
You can capture quick benefits by losing even 3 percent to 5 percent of your weight. But don’t feel like that needs to be done in one or two weeks. Instead, it’s healthier to set a goal to lose at least half a pound a week.
5. Find Ways To Cope with Stress
Stress can hurt you in multiple ways. First, is the simple fact that when people get stressed, they often turn to unhealthy habits. They break out the cigarettes, have an extra drink or reach for junk food. But stress can also raise your blood pressure and mess with your metabolism. When you get stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which slows your body down. That means you can gain weight even if your eating habits don’t change.
If you are feeling stressed, look for healthier ways to cope, including physical activities, meditation and relaxation exercises.
6. Take Care of Your Mental Health
Depression and other mental issues can become major obstacles standing between you and a healthier heart. If you are depressed, for example, you might lack the motivation needed to take better care of yourself. You might not exercise or eat well. And you may neglect taking medications.
You may be able to get into a better mental space by talking with a therapist or working with your doctor to find an antidepressant that works best for you.
7. Have Regular Checkups
For many reasons, it’s important to have regular checkups with your primary care doctor. These sessions can establish a health baseline for you, allowing your doctor to quickly pick up on any unwanted changes before they become problematic. And when it comes to your heart, you should know that many of the primary risk factors are silent – meaning they often have no noticeable symptoms until they become a serious problem.
That’s why regular screenings for high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes play an important role in your heart attack defenses. The sooner you can detect a rising risk factor, the sooner you can offset it through diet, exercise and medication.