As a cardiologist, I get to talk with people on a daily basis about their risk for heart attack. One thing that seems surprising to many patients is the fact that heart attacks are not inevitable. There are things you can do to lessen your risks!
A long-term study recently showed that you can avoid heart disease. The researchers identified six behaviors that can help us avoid 70 percent of heart attacks:
- 1. Do not smoke: Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.
- 2. Strive for a normal BMI: Your body mass index (BMI), uses your height and weight to determine whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. While BMI is a good start, it is not perfect. Waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have. Watch out for a waist measurement greater than 35 inches.
- 3. Get at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week: Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Try getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.
- 4. Watch less TV (seven or fewer hours per week): We know that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers (breast and colon). Physical activity can reduce risks by increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing body fat, inflammation and certain hormonal imbalances. So, turn off the TV, stand and walk more, take the stairs and use a pedometer to track your steps.
- 5. Eat a healthy diet: Eating healthy can reduce your risk of heart disease. A great example of a heart-healthy food plan is the Mediterranean diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- 6. Limit alcohol to a drink or less per day: If you don’t drink, don’t take up drinking because of reported benefits. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. That means up to one drink a day for women. Examples of one drink: beer – 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters); wine – 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters).
Women in the study who stuck to all six guidelines had a 92 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease, the researchers found. They also concluded that more than 70 percent of heart attacks in the group could have been prevented if everyone had hit those six hallmarks of heart health.
The study started with thousands of women ages 27-44 who were followed for 20 years. About 73 percent of cases of coronary heart disease were attributable to not sticking to a healthy lifestyle.
Heart attacks don’t happen overnight. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle slowly cause obstructions and poor heart muscle performance. That means avoiding a heart attack is within your power.