Guidelines to Prevent a Heart Attack

Use our simple checklist to take the steps that could save your life.

In 2002 the American Heart Association revised its guidelines for preventing heart disease. They include the following:

Improve Cholesterol. People with at least two risk factors, and a 10-year risk for heart disease or stroke of more than 20 percent, should aim for LDL ("bad cholesterol") levels of less than 100 mg/dL. Statins are now used in more cases.

Keep Blood Pressure Low. People in normal health should have a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or less. According to new guidelines, Blood pressure readings of 120/80 are considered normal, readings of 140/90 or higher indicate hypertension, and readings in between the two are called pre-hypertension. Patients with diabetes or chronic kidney disease should maintain blood pressure readings of 130/80 mm Hg or less, while those without these complications should have readings be no higher than 140/90 mm Hg.

Exercise. Everyone in normal health should engage in at least moderate physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. [Be sure to check with your physician before starting any exercise plan.]

Healthy Diet. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, nuts, legumes, poultry, lean meat and low-fat dairy items. Avoid saturated fats and trans-fatty acids.

Quit Smoking. Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

Maintain Weight. Aim for a BMI (body mass index) of 18.5 to 24.9.

Taking Aspirin. People whose risk for heart disease within 10 years is 10 percent or more should take a low-dose aspirin every day, unless they have medical reasons to avoid aspirin.

Control Diabetes. People with diabetes should aim for fast blood glucose levels of less than 110 mg/dL and hemoglobin A1C of less than 7 percent.

Control Atrial Fibrillation. People with atrial fibrillation should use anticoagulants to reduce the risk of blood clots.

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