It’s a scary statistic, but the likelihood you’ll have a heart attack in your life is rising higher and higher—every year more than 700,000 people in the U.S. die from a heart attack, and 200,000 of those deaths are from those who failed to make the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent another one.
So even if you aren’t at risk for having a heart attack yet, or know someone who might be in the group of people most likely to be stricken by an attack—male, older, smokes, obese, and has high blood pressure and high cholesterol—we’ve listed the top 30 tips to help prevent a heart attack, all backed up by the latest clinical studies. And for more ways to keep your heart healthy, check out these 40 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease After 40.
Find 5 hours to exercise
We all know that to strengthen your heart and keep heart attacks at bay, but even just getting in 5 hours of moderate exercise per week, like walking at a fast pace, can lower your risk for having a heart attack by 41%, says a study from Harvard Medical School. Exercising for 2 to 5 hours still reduced chance of a coronary event by 32%. And for more on how exercise can change your life, check out these 7 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Exercise.
Yes, stub out the butts
Everyone knows that to be healthier, you’ve gotta stop smoking. But most don’t realize just how serious of a detriment to your health smoking is: a study from the University of Oxford found that smokers age 50 and older can expect to live up to 15 years less than non-smokers. And even if you claim to just smoke socially, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that social smokers—not daily, but regularly—have the same risk for heart problems as daily smokers. Curious as to how smoking effects your life? Here are 20 Ways Smoking Weed Affects Your Health.
Make fun of yourself
Having a sense of humor and being able to relax enough to laugh at yourself or at a good joke has been found to make your blood vessels function better. A 2009 study from the University of Maryland Medical Center showed that laughing makes the inner lining of blood vessels expand and increase blood flow. And if you’re in need of a good laugh, here are 75 Jokes So Bad They’re Actually Funny.
Meditate twice a day
Combating stress is an important part of any plan to prevent heart attacks and strengthening your cardiovascular system, and sitting down for some meditation twice a day can lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke by 48%, according to a report published in the journal Circulation.
Have a grapefruit
These tart and tasty fruits (specifically the red variety) are able to reduce cholesterol, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Adding one grapefruit a day to your morning routine can significantly reduce the fats in the blood that lead to heart attacks, found the researchers. And for more ways to live smarter, know the 40 Health Myths You Hear Every Day.
Set sodium limits
Dropping added salt from your diet is essential to having healthy and supple arteries, says a new study from the National Institutes of Health. Getting more than the recommended 2,300mg a day was shown to make arteries stiffer than those people who stay within the guidelines.
Move to a higher elevation
Seems counter-intuitive because of the problems most people have when going to a higher elevation, but once you acclimate, research from the University of Colorado has shown that people who live at higher altitudes have less chance of heart disease and live longer. They think the lower oxygen levels spur genes to make more blood vessels, upping blood flow into the heart.
Eat ancient grains
Whole grains are known to help with heart health, but eating bread made from ancient grains—like quinoa, farro, teff, freekeh—has been found to lower cholesterol and blood sugar says a study that appeared in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. They speculate that the abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants works to promote healthy blood vessels. And for more great healthy living advice, don’t miss The New Weight-Loss Secret Everyone Is Talking About.
Take it easy…
…when you hit the gym if you already have been diagnosed with heart disease. When your doc informs you that you have heart disease or are at risk for it, some guys just want to get exercising. But German and Swedish studies have shown that going too hard and overdoing high-intensity exercise make increase your risk of dying from heart attack or stroke. Before you start an intense program, be sure to consult your doctor and get a qualified trainer. Also: Know the 30 Biggest Exercise Myths.
If you’re overwhelmed by trying to figure out what to eat to make your heart last longer and get stronger, just switch over to the Mediterranean diet—plenty of veggies, fruits, fish, wine, olive oil—or make those foods a priority. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that eating a more Mediterranean diet, and not even avoiding the typical Western foods, leads to a lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Eat 10 fruits and veggies a day
Yes, we get it: You’ve got to make sure to get in lots of fruits and vegetables for a healthier life and heart. But a study from Imperial College London found that if you go plant crazy and eat more than the recommended five-a-day intake and hit 10 a day, then you can drop your chance of heart disease by 24% and risk of stroke by 33%.
Mix exercise and vitamin D
For a bit of synergy to get your heart in tip-top shape, research from Johns Hopkins Medicine showed in 2017 that there’s a direct relationship between exercise and good levels of vitamin D in the blood for lowering risk of heart attack and protecting the cardiovascular system.
Pump pulse intake
To lower high levels of cholesterol, make sure to get lots of pulses—beans, chickpeas, lentils—in your diet. Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital discovered that one serving a day, or about ¾ a cup, is enough to lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol by 5%, which would drop your risk of getting cardiovascular disease by 5–6%. And for more great healthy eating advice, here are the 30 Best Foods for Maximizing Your Energy Levels.
Nosh on something fishy once a week
Reducing red meat in your diet and loading up on more fish has long been known as a good way to reduce risk of heart attack, but research from the University of Washington has found that just getting one serving a week is enough to slash risk of dying from a heart attack among older folks by 44%. That doesn’t include fried fish, so keep it grilled or baked.
Nix an artificial sweet tooth
Leaving food with added sugar alone is a no brainer when trying to drop pounds and be healthier, but you should also stay away from artificial sweeteners as a substitute. A 2017 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that these “nonnutritive” sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, may increase risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Stand for 6 hours a day
Defying gravity and beating the overwhelming urge to be sedentary is a major factor in preventing a heart attack, and standing more often has been shown to increase longevity and improve lots of health markers. But making a point to stand for at least 6 hours a day was singled out by the Mayo Clinic as a way to make muscles more active, which can lower rates of heart attacks and strokes. And if you’d like to know more about the effects of standing, This Is Exactly How Many Calories You Burn While Standing at Your Desk.
Feel fruity everyday
Adding in fresh fruit to your diet on most days of the week was linked to lower risk of heart attack and stroke, says a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which looked at over 500,000 people, reported that about 100 grams of fruit (about one banana or half an apple) a day was associated with a one-third drop in death from heart problems.
Get a flu shot
If you think flu vaccinations are just for ancient people and newborn babies, think again, says new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that your chances of heart attack are increased by six times during the first seven days after being diagnosed with the flu. If you are at risk, make sure to get a flu shot each year.
Stay inside when it’s cold
You may be tempted to get out and shovel your sidewalk after a snowstorm, but if the air is extra cold, like below freezing (32 degrees F or 0 degrees C), your chances of having a heart attack shoots up, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden.
Seriously, stop with the sugar]
A 2017 study from the University of Surrey in the U.K. showed that a high sugar diet, 650 calories worth of it a day, has been found to bump up fat in the liver. The extra sugar made changes in the subjects’ fat metabolism which was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Lift for one hour a week
You don’t have to become a bona-fide bodybuilder who hits the gym six times a week to get the heart-healthy benefits of pumping iron. Just try to lift weights for one hour a week to lower your risk of developing chronic ailments like high blood pressure and blood sugar by 17%, says a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Get vaccinated for shingles
Shingles, which is basically like getting chicken pox again in older people, is not something you want to endure, so it’s important to get vaccinated. People who got the itchy, scabby ailment, were 41% more likely to have a cardiovascular event, with 59% with increased risk for heart attack and 35% for stroke, says a study from South Korea.
Get to the dentist often
Going to the dentist and getting your teeth cleaned can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke compared to people who have never gotten a through teeth scaling, says a study from Taiwan. Another study, from Sweden, found that less teeth in your mouth meant higher chance of having a heart attack and those with infected gums had a 53% increase in heart attacks.
Take aspirin daily
Men at risk for having a heart attack are often prescribed a daily dose of aspirin to prevent heart attacks. And a 2016 study that was published in the journal PLOS One reported that heart attack preventatives like aspirin and statins can also reduce heart attack severity if another one comes around.
Treat poor sleep
If you consistently have trouble sleeping, you may have a sleep disorder. And if you have a sleep disorder, your chance of getting a heart attack goes up by about 60% says a recent study from Russia. Men who sleep poorly were almost two and half times more likely to have heart attack and up to four times higher for stroke compared to people who slept soundly. And for more help, know the 20 Nighttime Habits Guaranteed to Help You Sleep Better.
Tucking into a heavy meal may be fun around the holidays or for special occasions, but sticking with a lighter dinner may be the better bet, especially if you have heart disease. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that one heavy meal may bump of risk of heart attack by four times in a two-hour window after the feast.
Eat 6.7 grams of dark chocolate
Good news for chocolate lovers (at least dark chocolate freaks), getting up to 6.7 grams of the dark delight per day may be the perfect amount to protect your heart from cardiovascular disease and up risk of heart attack. The findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed that about half a bar a week (50g) can lower inflammation in the body and lead to a healthier heart.
Make berries a priority
Getting in three servings of berries each week may drop your chance of getting a heart attack by about 32%, says a 2013 study from Harvard. Berries are loaded with flavonoids like anthocyanins that are known to cut down on plaque build up in arteries, so start each morning with a cup or more.
Eat before 7 p.m.
Don’t wait till late at night to get your final meal of the day in, says a 2017 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, cap it off at 7 p.m. Researchers found that those who waited until around 11 p.m. for their last bit of food had higher body weight and increased amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood, which are markers for increased risk of heart problems.
Fill up on folic acid
Making foods that are high in folic acid—like spinach, citrus, beans, cereal, rice, and pasta—may making your risk of having a heart attack reduced, according to recent research appearing in the journal PLOS One. The B vitamin can lower homocysteine, a compound in the body that is responsible for blood clotting—high levels may lead to an increased probability of heart attack. For heart friendly eating advice, check out The 10 Best Foods for Your Heart.
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