Five ways to prevent a heart attack.

two women walking for exercise

Heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States, so learning what we can do to prevent heart attacks is a smart move for all of us.  And there’s a bonus: most of these recommendations will also reduce your risk for other illnesses like cancer, diabetes and more.

1. Stop smoking.  A 2014 study done in Stockholm, Sweden found that of all the actions a patient could take to reduce heart attack risk, quitting smoking was by far the most effective (reducing risk by 36%).  Your primary care doctor can counsel you on the best way to quit, and prescribe aids like nicotine gum or patches to ease you off tobacco. The American Cancer Society offers resources for quitters; quitting will reduce your risk of cancer and stroke as well as heart attacks.     

2.  Eat a healthy diet.  You’re probably aware that cruising through the fast-food drive-thru five times a week won’t do your heart any favors. But it’s not enough to just avoid the bad stuff. You need to replace it with heart-healthy, nutritious foods.

The best diet for heart attack prevention is a plant-based diet that limits red meat and refined, processed foods.  Most cardiologists recommend:

  • At least 5 servings of fresh vegetables and fruits daily
  • Whole grains instead of refined or processed (for instance, whole wheat bread  and brown rice instead of white)
  • Eating heart-healthy fish regularly (like salmon and tuna)
  • Choosing healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados

3. Exercise regularly.  The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity).  Moderate intensity activities include brisk walking, gardening, or casual biking.  Vigorous intensity activities include running, aerobic dancing, or cycling at 10 or more miles per hour.  

If you’re not exercising much now, this may seem intimidating. Work your way up gradually to the recommended 150 minutes. Even a 5- or 10-minute walk is a step in the right direction. Park a little further away at work or when running errands. Play with your dog outside instead of watching TV.  Every little bit helps your heart. It will also make it easier to achieve the next recommendation…

4.  Reduce belly fat.  In some studies, abdominal obesity (carrying excess weight around your middle) is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. And overall obesity increases your risk for numerous diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. If you follow recommendations #2 and #3, you should be able to drop excess weight and improve your heart health.   

5. Get plenty of sleep.  The quality of your sleep affects more than just the amount of energy you have the next day. For instance, sleep apnea — a disorder in which your airway is repeatedly blocked during sleep — is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. And insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

If you think you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, a sleep study can help diagnose the problem. Treatment can improve the quality of your sleep and help reduce heart attack risk. The Covenant Sleep Center performs sleep studies to help patients with sleep problems.    

There are some risk factors you can’t control, like a family history of heart disease. But you can greatly reduce your overall risk by taking these proactive steps and seeing your doctor regularly. Learn more about risk factors for heart disease at

Posted Date: 8/17/2020

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