By the time you’ve read this article, at least two people in the US will have had a heart attack. Hopefully one of them isn’t you. But you could still be one of the 805,000 Americans who have a heart attack each year. Luckily, if you can decrease your chance of having a heart attack by following these tips:
Limit alcohol intake
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your risk for heart disease, says James Yeh, MD, MPH. More than 7 drinks a week can be harmful to your health. A standard drink has 14 grams of alcohol. For example, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
High levels of cholesterol can clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks. Yeh suggests adopting the Mediterranean diet, which has been found to lower cholesterol. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, with limited consumption of red meat and sweets. Getting the recommended 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week can also lower blood cholesterol. You can also ask your doctor about cholesterol-lowering medications.
Smoking cigarettes raises blood pressure and increases your risk of a heart attack. Being exposed to secondhand smoke is also harmful. Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt says about smoking, “It can take a decade or longer to reverse some damage to the heart, and some damage may not ever go away,” depending on how long you’ve smoked. He warns that cigars and vaping count, too. But the risk of heart attack starts to drop immediately after a person stops using tobacco products, and can drop by as much as half in just one year. “The more you smoke, the higher your risk of death,” says Yeh.
Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms but is one of the biggest causes of sudden stroke or heart attack. The WHO recommends having your blood pressure checked and knowing your numbers. Stress can raise your blood pressure, and, in extreme cases, “trigger” a heart attack. “Stress can have many sources — personal issues, financial situations, health problems — so it’s essential to work at managing stress regularly,” says Dr. Bhatt. Eating right and exercising, as outlined above, can also help regulate blood pressure. You can also try the DASH diet, which was specifically designed to lower blood pressure, says Yeh.
Treat your body right
Putting good food in your body is one of the best ways to decrease your risk of a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends reducing your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Yeh suggests replacing butter, coconut oil, palm oil, shortening, or lard with olive, safflower, canola, corn, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oils. The WHO recommends eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and pulses with restricted salt, sugar, and fat intake. You also need to sleep, says Dr. Bhatt. “Not getting sufficient sleep and struggling with disruptive sleep problems like sleep apnea and insomnia raise the risk of heart disease.” You also need to stay active. Yeh suggests 50 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, which can be done through brisk walking, running, swimming, biking, and other aerobic exercises.