The 4 Best Ways to Slash Your Heart Attack Risk, According to a Cardiologist
Keep your ticker in tip-top shape with these daily habits.
One of the most powerful things you can do to live a long, healthy life is to take good care of your heart. Over 80 percent of cardiovascular-related deaths are caused by heart attacks and strokes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, with one in five deaths attributed to the condition. Fortunately, you can drastically reduce your heart attack risk with a few simple lifestyle tweaks. Read on for four doctor-recommended strategies that will help keep your heart strong.
READ THIS NEXT: The 4 Most Surprising Signs of Heart Disease, According to Doctors.
There's nothing quite like regular exercise to boost your heart health and lower your risk of heart attack. Regardless of the type of exercise, physical activity can lower your resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial plaque build-up, and strengthen your heart muscle, according to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week (or any combination of the two), plus two days that include strength training. While that amount of exercise may sound daunting, you can spread it across five 30-minute sessions a week.
Eric Alter, MD, a cardiologist with Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute, tells Best Life, "Moderate-intensity activities such as biking, brisk walking, or active yoga have consistently been shown to reduce your risk for developing heart disease, including heart attack. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health and is a good alternative. Even if you're tight on time, a short [bout] of exercise is better than none at all."
READ THIS NEXT: This Is the No. 1 Heart Attack Symptom People Ignore, Doctors Say.
Make healthy diet choices
Cutting out ultra-processed foods, added sugars, excess calories, and processed meats, while adding more whole plant foods to your diet, can work wonders for your heart health. A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) concluded that diets high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and low in processed meats, sugary beverages, refined grains, and sodium are beneficial for heart health and preventive of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
"Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet that involves adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean proteins such as fish to your diet can significantly improve heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease," says Alter. "It's also important to eliminate foods associated with an increased risk for heart disease, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats."
Avoid tobacco use
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 60 years or so, you know that smoking is terrible for your health—but it's especially bad for your cardiovascular system. "Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the U.S., including a large number of heart attacks each year," states Alter. "Even if you're older and have been smoking for years, there's still a benefit to your heart health if you stop smoking. The goal for everyone is to stop smoking entirely, as even low levels of smoking can increase your risk of heart disease."
For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked
Instead of waiting for heart disease symptoms to present themselves, or for a heart attack to occur, do yourself and your loved ones a favor and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. "Regular monitoring of blood pressure and cholesterol can help to identify significant risk factors for development of heart disease and, if necessary, treatment of either of these conditions can help to reduce your risk for developing a heart attack," states Alter.
The Mayo Clinic reports that healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 40 with optimal blood pressure and no risk factors for heart disease should have their blood pressure checked every two to five years. People age 40 and older, or those who are at an elevated risk of high blood pressure, should get tested annually; and individuals with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure should be tested more often.