Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States—every day 2,200 people die from it. One of the main forms of heart disease is heart attack, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year about 720,000 people in the U.S. experience one. Of these, 515,000 are the first heart attack for the victim.
These statistics shouldn’t be taken lightly, and neither should keeping your heart healthy. Heart attacks can come without any prior warning, so you want to make sure you’re maintaining good heart health to avoid running into any unpleasant—and sometimes fatal—surprises.
Thankfully, the risk for heart attack can be reduced with some key lifestyle changes. To prevent a heart attack, it’s all about going back to the basics of good health: principles you were probably taught by your parent as a child.
1. No smoking, alcohol in moderation
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart—and for your body as a whole for that matter. Every cigarette smoked increases your chances of a heart attack, and one out of five deaths by heart disease are directly linked to smoking.
Often people turn to alcohol as a way to manage their stress. Alcohol can be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
2. Healthy diet
Eat healthy by making sure you eat whole grains, lean meats, and at least five fruits and vegetables per day. Many medical professionals recommend taking fish oil supplements, but Harvard Health Publications recommends eating actual fish instead. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout contain omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice a week. Consult your doctor before you start taking fish oil capsules. Remember to lower your intake of saturated fat and replace it with more healthful fats like those in avocados and nuts.
You always hear that you should exercise more, but how much exactly? To keep your body and heart healthy, exercise for 150 minutes each week. That’s 30 minutes of exercise five days a week—or you can divide it out in a way that best meets your schedule. It can be as simple as going for a brisk walk with some friends.
Are you burning the candle at both ends? Have you ever heard someone tell you, “You’re going to have a heart attack” because you stress out and worry so much? Stress is scientifically proven to shorten life expectancy. In fact, when you’re stressed, your blood pressure rises and your blood clots differently, increasing your risk for heart attack.
You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react. Learn to be calm in the face of hard situations. Meditate, practice yoga, or take some time for yourself each day.
5. Control diabetes and hypertension
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you should get them under control in order to boost your heart health. Fortunately, diabetes management and heart attack prevention include the same required health steps: eating healthy and exercising. You can kill two birds with one stone. As with heart attack prevention, diabetes control is all about going back to the basics.
6. Focus on what you can change
For those who have family history of heart disease and heart attack, focus on the risk factors you can change. Even if you are genetically predisposed to heart problems, you can still reduce your risk significantly by living a healthier lifestyle.
If all of this seems overwhelming, identify the risk factor you have the most trouble with and concentrate on changing that first. Maybe you exercise often but just can’t let go of your fast food lunches, or you like one too many beers while you relax after work.
If you go back to the basics of healthy living, your risk for heart attack will decrease.