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June 2019

Strategies for Heading Off Heart Attacks

Good news: Fewer people are dying of heart attacks. Nonetheless, heart disease is still the leading cause of death for women and men. So what can you do to lower your chances of having a heart attack? Take charge of risk factors. Here’s how:

Graphic art of heart with a heartbeat signal

  • Get regular blood pressure checks. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, using less salt, and eating fewer high-sodium foods can help control and prevent high blood pressure. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medication to lower blood pressure.

  • Keep your diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. For adults, total fat in your diet should stay between 20% and 35% of total calories. Saturated fat should make up less than 10%. Ask your provider to monitor your cholesterol and triglycerides.

  • If you smoke cigarettes, quit. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start. Be sure to stay away from secondhand smoke, too.

  • Drink alcohol only moderately, if at all. Women should limit drinking to one alcoholic beverage per day. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day. Beware: Consuming too much alcohol can rise your blood pressure.

  • Get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or biking, every week. Physical activity strengthens your heart and increases circulation. Plus, it can help you reduce body fat and lose excess weight so your heart doesn’t work as hard.

  • Find ways to manage stress—it’ll help prevent both heart disease and high blood pressure. Consider trying deep breathing or meditation to relax.

Weight and shape can contribute to heart problems

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. The location of excess fat is also important. Having a shape like an apple—with fat around your waist—may increase health risks more than having fat in other parts of your body. Women, try to keep your waist size 35 inches or less. And men, try to keep yours equal to or less than 40 inches.




Online Medical Reviewer: Mukamal, Kenneth, MD, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 12/18/2018
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