Here's some news to make your heart sing: Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack, are completely preventable for at least 95% of people just by changing diet and lifestyle, according to a study published in the medical journal, the Lancet. And not only preventable, but usually reversible simply by applying these changes.
This is exciting, because it means that your heart health is in your own hands! Everything you eat, drink and do (or don't do) is either contributing to heart disease or heart health.
Top risks for heart disease and heart attack.
Smoking is not just a major risk factor for lung cancer, but is also a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The problem is that smoking causes a number of conditions that increase your risk for these debilitating and largely preventable diseases, including:
- An increase in the development of plaque within the arteries of the heart
- Plaque to become inflamed, fragile and more likely to rupture and break off into the bloodstream
- Blood to become sticky, increasing the risk of clots developing on the plaque as it moves through arteries, causing heart attacks
The good news about smoking is that if you stop, a number of those things can improve very quickly. Within several weeks of quitting, your blood starts to thin out and the plaques start to stabilize.
- Abdominal obesity
- Daily consumption of fruits and vegetables
Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for many conditions, including heart disease. Not eating enough fruits and veggies is a risk factor, too, because they contain antioxidants and nutrients most people don't get enough of. But a healthy diet can help you overcome both of these risk factors.
Adopt a healthy eating plan to help you get to and maintain a healthy weight (ask your doctor what that is for you) and provide your body with powerful nutrition.
- 4 to 5 servings EACH of fruits and vegetables daily
- 6 to 8 servings of whole grains daily
- At least 2 servings of fish high in omega-3s weekly
- Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts)
- Low-fat dairy
- Little to no added sugar
- Little to no red meat (lean cuts if you must eat)
- Regular physical activity
Here's another two-fer: regular exercise will not only strengthen your heart, which is a muscle, but like eating healthfully, it can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Try for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both every week. Be sure to include muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
(The other 5 risk factors mentioned in the Lancet article are: abnormal lipids, hypertension, diabetes, alcohol consumption and psychosocial factors.)
Know the symptoms of a heart attack.
If you experience any of the symptoms of a heart attack, you should call 911 or seek immediate medical treatment. Keep in mind that symptoms will vary from person to person and often, from men to women. Sometimes, the symptoms of a heart attack will mimic heartburn or a panic attack. But in general, here's what to look for.
- Pain in the center of the chest
- Fullness, pressure or squeezing in the chest
- Pain in
- One or both arms
- Upper back
- Shortness of breath
If you have no symptoms but two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, you should follow up with your doctor. These risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol
- Excess weight
- Early family history
- Male family member 40-50 with heart disease
- Female family member 50-60 with heart disease
Do you know how healthy your heart is? Our free Heart Risk Assessment can help you pinpoint your personal risk factors for heart disease so you can start taking steps to decrease them today.
If you or someone in your family experiences chest pain, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations or Accredited Chest Pain Centers has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.