While experts once recommended that all American adults at increased risk of heart disease take a low dose of aspirin daily to prevent heart attack and stroke, times have changed.
In 2018, three major studies found few benefits to this practice—and some major risks, too—so the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed their practice guidelines to formally recommend against daily aspirin in people over 70 and in people with an increased bleeding risk who don’t have existing heart disease.
But how many people are aware of this crucial change? A new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that 6.6 million people over age 40 may still take daily aspirin without their doctor’s recommendation, and nearly half of adults over 70 without a history of stroke or heart attack take daily aspirin despite the new recommendations.
"Our findings show a tremendous need for health care practitioners to ask their patients about ongoing aspirin use and to advise them about the importance of balancing the benefits and harms, especially among older adults and those with prior peptic ulcer disease," said lead study author Colin O'Brien, M.D., a senior internal medicine resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Basically, the 2018 studies found that daily aspirin use can boost your bleeding risk—especially in older adults, whose blood vessels may already be weakened, and adults with peptic ulcers, which are painful sores in the lining of the stomach that are already likely to bleed. If you’re taking aspirin every day to help prevent cardiovascular disease, it may be time to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s still necessary.
Other Ways to Prevent Heart Disease
Want to be proactive about your cardiovascular health in other medication-free ways? A healthy lifestyle goes a long way—without consequences--in reducing your heart attack and stroke risk.
First thing’s first: If you don’t already exercise, it’s time to start. Staying active is one of the best strategies you can adopt to keep your heart healthy, according to Hopkins Medicine. You want to aim for about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (like brisk walking or swimming) on at least five days of the week to get your heart pumping. You should also mix in resistance exercise, which helps your cardiovascular system by reducing fat, lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol, and upping levels of “good” cholesterol. Try body-resistance exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats, or head to your local gym and learn how to get started on weight machines or with free weights.
The second major way to reduce your heart disease risk is by nourishing your body with heart-healthy foods. The American Heart Association recommends a diet with a heavy focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and can include low-fat dairy products, legumes (think dried beans and peanuts), fish and poultry, healthy vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. The major things you want to avoid? Red meat, sodium-packed and ultra-processed foods (put down the microwavable dinner!), and sugary drinks.
Following these guidelines will help fuel your body with heart-healthy nutrients. Bonus: You don’t have to remember to pop another pill.