How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attacks

How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attacks
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with approximately 697,000 deaths each year attributed to heart-related causes, including heart attacks and strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that one in every five deaths is caused by heart disease. The economic impact of heart disease is significant as well, with healthcare costs and lost productivity totaling around $229 billion, reports the CDC. However, many of these deaths and associated costs could be prevented through medication and lifestyle changes, according to the CDC.

Modifiable and Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

Although certain risk factors for heart attacks cannot be changed, such as age and family history, there are modifiable risk factors that can significantly impact the risk of heart disease. For example, lifestyle choices such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and being overweight or obese can greatly increase the risk of heart disease. The good news is that by addressing these modifiable risk factors, individuals can reduce their chances of experiencing a heart attack.

Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention

The first line of defense against heart attacks is making lifestyle changes. Most major risk factors for heart disease are related to lifestyle choices, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. Here are some steps individuals can take to lower their risk of a heart attack:

  1. Quit Smoking: Smoking introduces harmful chemicals into the bloodstream and is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, where fatty deposits build up in the arteries. Even individuals who already have heart disease can significantly reduce their risk of a recurrent heart attack and death from cardiovascular causes by quitting smoking.
  2. Increase Physical Activity: Regular exercise is essential for a heart-healthy lifestyle and should include both aerobic and strength-building activities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running. Additionally, muscle-strengthening exercises should be done at least twice a week, targeting all major muscle groups.

Related: 10 Tips for a Healthy Heart: Keep Your Heart Strong and Fit

Dietary Tips for a Heart-Healthy Diet

In addition to lifestyle changes, individuals can also make dietary adjustments to prevent heart attacks. Here are nine diet tips for heart attack prevention:

  1. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables: Aim to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, including a variety of types and colors.
  2. Include Fiber-Rich Grains and Legumes: Opt for whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice, and incorporate legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and black-eyed peas into your diet.
  3. Choose Lean Meats and Fatty Fish: Select lean options like 95 percent lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, and skinless chicken or turkey. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and trout are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Consume Healthy Fats: Incorporate monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils such as canola, olive, safflower, and sunflower.
  5. Limit Salt and Sodium: The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams. Processed foods are often high in salt, so be mindful of the sodium content in canned soups, sauces, deli meats, frozen dinners, packaged snacks, and bread.
  6. Reduce Unhealthy Fats: Saturated and trans fats should be limited in the diet. Sources of saturated fat include fatty meats, high-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils. Foods containing trans fats, such as packaged desserts, baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarine, and coffee creamers, should be avoided whenever possible.
  7. Minimize Added Sugars: Added sugars come in various forms and are found in sweetened drinks, packaged snacks, pastries, and candies. Be attentive to the presence of additives like brown sugar, regular or high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, honey, and maple syrup.
  8. Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Men should limit themselves to two drinks per day, while women should have only one drink, according to the CDC. A drink is typically defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
  9. Monitor Calorie Intake: To maintain a healthy body weight, it is important to consume the right amount of food. This will vary depending on age, gender, activity level, and other factors. Opt for smaller portions and eat slowly to help control calorie intake.

In addition to lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments, certain medications may be prescribed to further reduce the risk of heart attacks. For example, individuals with high cholesterol may be prescribed statins to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, diuretics, and beta blockers may be recommended for individuals with high blood pressure.

By implementing these preventive measures, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of heart attacks and promote overall heart health. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine a personalized plan of action based on individual health factors and needs.

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