Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, equaling 17.3 million deaths annually. Approximately 635,000 Americans have their first heart attack each year with 2,150 Americans dying daily from heart disease and stroke. (Source: 2015 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update)
Lowering your risk factors for heart disease will help you prevent a heart attack.
1. Make healthy food choices.
There are many ways you can adjust your diet to promote heart health. Control portion sizes to avoid excess calories, increase your intake of vitamin and nutrient rich fruits and vegetables, switch from processed grains to whole grains for increased fiber, eliminate trans fats, opt for lean proteins, and reduce sodium intake.
2. Reduce stress.
Stress impacts behaviors and factors which increase heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol consumption, inactivity, and overeating. Use stress management techniques to prevent the negative impacts of stress on your health. Some options for managing stress include regular exercise, consuming a healthy diet, meditation, limiting caffeine intake, and having a strong social network for support.
3. Stop smoking.
Smoking all by itself increases your heart attack risk. Combine it with other factors and your risk increases significantly. Smoking raises blood pressure levels, reduces your ability to exercise, and makes your blood more likely to clot. Take steps to stop smoking.
4. Be physically active.
Your heart is a muscle and it is strengthened through exercise. The stronger your heart, the more blood it can efficiently circulate without straining. More than 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) of moderate exercise every week reduces heart disease risk 30%. Even small increases in activity can significantly reduce risk.
5. Monitor your blood pressure.
High blood pressure increases the development of atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of arterial plaque. This build-up causes narrow arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart leading to increased risk of an artery becoming fully blocked or blood clot formation. Blood pressure is known as the "silent killer", meaning you usually don’t know you have high blood pressure. It is important to periodically monitor levels. If your average blood pressure is greater than 140/90 mm Hg, discuss with your doctor.
6. Control your blood sugar.
Diabetes and prediabetes increase your heart disease risk. You can reduce risk by maintaining normal blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels. This means maintaining a hemoglobin A1c of less than 7%. Reducing your intake of high glycemic index foods is one step towards maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Some high glycemic index foods include white rice, white bread, instant oatmeal, and popcorn.
7. Discuss aspirin with your doctor.
The American Heart Association recommends a daily low-dose aspiring for those at risk for a heart attack. There are potential risks with taking a daily aspiring. Discuss with your doctor before implementing.
8.** Keep cholesterol within normal limits.**
High cholesterol levels increase build-up of plaque along artery walls, increasing heart disease risk. There are different types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is most closely linked with plaque development and increased heart disease risk. Know your levels and take steps to reduce cholesterol levels to normal.
9. Maintain a healthy weight.
If you are overweight or obese, take steps to lose weight. Where you carry excess weight impacts your risk. Excess stomach fat is connected to high blood sugars, elevated blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels, all of which increase heart attack risk.
10.** Establish a strong support system.**
Low levels of support have been linked to increased heart attack risk. Nurture relationships with your friends and family for both mental and physical health.
If you have already had a heart attack, you are at increased risk for another heart attack. There are additional steps you should take to prevent a second heart attack.
For further guidance on steps you can take to lower cholesterol levels and reduce heart attack risk, access the free e-course "How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps" at http://lowercholesterolwithlisa.com.
Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.