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8 Ways to prevent a heart attack

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Prevention starts now

Did you know that in the United States a woman dies approximately every minute from heart disease, stroke, and all other cardiovascular diseases? Worse, about 64 percent of those women who die suddenly of CHD will have had no previous symptoms. Whether you are in your 20s and have no history of heart disease or in your 50s and wanting to take steps to avoid it, here are eight ways to prevent having a heart attack.


1. Assess your risks

Since many first-ever heart attacks are fatal, prevention is critical. The sooner you learn the factors that put you at an increased risk for heart disease, the sooner you can put a risk reduction program into action and avoid a heart attack. Visit the American Heart Association to determine your risks and talk to your doctor about steps you can take to live a heart-healthy lifestyle.


2. Kick the habit

Smokers, compared to nonsmokers, have twice the risk of sudden cardiac death. In addition, cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. When you quit smoking, you greatly decrease your chances of having a heart attack and increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life. As important, your decision to quit smoking is a decision to improve the health of your loved ones. Check your local listings for smoking cessation programs and contact your doctor for more information on smoking cessation treatments.

3. Move your body

Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your heart health. Not only does physical activity strengthen your heart and lungs, it also helps you maintain a healthy weight, relieves stress, and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis, diabetes and other chronic disease. A mere 30 minutes of exercise a day can lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of having a heart attack. Go for a walk, ride your bike, take a fitness class or do gardening or housework to meet your 30-minute quota. And if that seems like too much at the beginning, start slow – do 10 minutes of exercise and gradually build up your endurance.

4. Ditch the bad fats

Your diet is key in preventing a heart attack. Lowering your intake of saturated and trans fats (also known as "bad" fats) can reduce your risk of heart disease. But don't think this means eliminating all fat from your diet – "good" fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omegas) are heart-healthy and can actually lower your blood cholesterol. Read labels and limit your intake of products with saturated and trans fat as well as fatty cuts of meat. Likewise, consume a modest amount of the heart-healthy fats found in fatty fish (rich in omega-3s), nuts, seeds, olive oil, olives and avocados.

5. Nosh on nutritious foods

In addition to limiting "bad" fats and having a modest intake of "good" fats, fill your plate with nutrient-rich foods (which are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories), such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Consider working with a registered dietician or nutritionist to develop a heart-healthy diet plan that will help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight (if you need to lose it), and your risk of a heart attack.

6. Limit your libations

Drinking too much alcohol – even wine – can raise your blood pressure and lead to a heart attack. In addition, it can contribute to high triglycerides, produce irregular heartbeats, and lead to obesity, not to mention other health conditions. According to the American Heart Association, though the risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) is lower than in nondrinkers, it is not recommended to for nondrinkers to start drinking or for drinkers to think "more is better." Limit yourself to one drink per day.

7. Stress less

Research suggests a relationship between stress and the risk for coronary heart disease. Stress itself can put a strain on your body but it can also compel you to make poor lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease. For example, if you cope with stress by overeating, smoking, or drinking, you are raising your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. Find healthy ways to manage your stress and work to reduce the stressors you face on a daily basis. In addition, keep in mind that maintaining a nutritious diet and exercising regularly can also help lessen the impact of stress on your health.

8. Manage your health

If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or other chronic conditions, work closely with your doctor to keep your health in check. Be sure to get regular medical check ups and follow treatment plans as directed by your healthcare provider. And if you're in good health, make a yearly appointment to stay healthy by catching any health problems early, when they are easier to treat.

More on heart-health


10 Reasons to quit smoking
Heart-healthy Greek recipes
The many benefits of omega-3s
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