In this day and age, we have a much better understanding of the factors that affect your risk for a heart attack. While some traditional risk factors, like keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in check should be left to your doctor, diet and lifestyle changes are your first step in taking control of your risk for a heart attack.
1.) Know Your Risk.
There are many traditional factors that determine your risk for a heart attack. Risk factor number one, of course, is having had a heart attack in the past. Risk factors for a heart attack also includesmoking, high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), age, stress, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Men are more susceptible to heart disease, although for both sexes heart disease is a leading cause of death after age 65.
Of course, some of these risk factors can’t be removed – you can’t get younger or change your family history. But you can take other steps, which we’ll discuss next.
2.) Watch Your Diet.
The right diet to manage your heart health will also depend on other conditions you have. If you have high blood pressure, you should watch your sodium intake – too much sodium raises your blood pressure, in turn raising your risk for heart attacks. If you’re overweight, factor that in as well. Replace unhealthy fats like trans fats with healthy fats like fish and avocado. Omega-3 fatty acids like those in fish decrease your risk for heart disease.
3.) Stop Smoking.
Nothing negatively affects heart health more than tobacco use. It’s a triple-whammy. It impacts your respiration – and thus, reduces the amount of oxygen that enters your blood. It thins your artery walls and it can cause deadly blood clots. Even before factoring in the risk of cancer, emphysema, COPD and the rest of tobacco’s smorgasbord of negative health effects, smoking can double or quadruple your risk of heart disease.
Your heart is a muscle. In fact, it is the only muscle that starts working before you are born and keeps working every second of your life. The better shape it’s in, the better shape you’re in. Look for exercises that raise your heart rate for at least half an hour per day, but don’t try to be Jane Fonda – spread your exercise out according to your schedule, and don’t look at it as something you ‘have to do’ but as something that you GET to do! Pressuring yourself too much can undermine your efforts. You won’t turn into a triathlete overnight – but over time you will feel better.
There are ways to measure your fitness and how it relates to your cardiovascular health. The best resource I have ever found on this subject is the brand new book by Steven Masley, The 30 Day Heart Tune Up. Every one needs to read this book!!
5.) Get Some Sleep.
Sleep is basic health maintenance – avoiding it is like trying to go without water. Prioritizing sleep will help your body heal itself and will make it easier for your mind and heart to handle the stress of the day. Insufficient sleep has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and even diabetes. So get your sleep!!
What to Do Next —
While there’s no single cause of heart attacks, a number of causes can affect each other. This means that each step you take towards reducing one risk factor can also reduce your risk of another. For example, if you improve your fitness, it can reduce your blood pressure, while at the same time decrease your risk for obesity and diabetes.
While you may not be able to live a perfectly healthy lifestyle, each step has far-reaching benefits. To recap, the most important priorities are:
- Stop smoking
- Eat right
- Get a good night’s sleep
None of this should be taken as medical advice. It is purely educational. You should always consult with your doctor about lifestyle changes that may affect your health, including diet and exercise.
And remember – slow and steady wins the race!