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5 Ways to Lower Your Risk for Heart Attack and Heart Disease

Doctor & Patients

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States – but fortunately, there are things you can do to possibly prevent at least some of the risk factors.

There are a number of different risk factors that can determine whether you develop coronary heart disease. By adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and making other changes, you can reduce your risk factors significantly – and improve your overall life.

Here are five ways to lower your risk for heart attack and disease.

  1. Eat for your heart.

Your diet plays a huge role in your risk for heart disease and heart attack. Heart-healthy diets help support lower blood cholesterol levels. By avoiding foods with saturated fat and trans fat, you can keep blood cholesterol at lower levels. Saturated fats are in foods that come from animals. Trans fats are in foods that have hydrogenated oils and fats. Stick margarine, baked goods, cookies, crackers, and coffee creamers are examples of trans-fat-containing foods.

Heart-healthy eating should include foods like:

  • Skim milk and other low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Salmon, tuna, trout, and other fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, and other legumes
  • Broccoli, brown rice, corn tortillas, and other whole grains

Foods that should be watched or eliminated include:

  • Red meat (in reduced amounts)
  • Oils such as palm and coconut oil
  • Products with excess sugar
  • Products with excess salt
  • Alcohol
  1. Take time to exercise each day.

Did you know your chances of getting a heart attack decrease by 30% to 50% when you engage in moderate physical activity? Shoot for five days a week for at least 30 minutes a day for best results. Try out aerobic activities like energetic walking and swimming on three of the five days, and then alternate with strength training on two days per week.

Can’t fit in 30 minutes at a time? You can always break up your daily exercise routine into chunks of 15 minutes twice per day. Wake up early and do some jogging in place, and then walk around the parking lot at lunch.

  1. Lose weight, but set realistic goals.

Staying at a healthy weight is important for your overall health, as well as reducing your risk for heart attack and heart disease. Eating right and getting more exercise can help you maintain your weight at the right body mass index (BMI). If you’re not sure what your BMI score is, check out the online calculator from the NHLBI. Shoot for a healthy BMI of between 18 and 24.9. Using the calculator, you can figure out the weight range that is right for you. Just a weight loss of three to five percent of your total body weight can cut down your chances for high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and high blood glucose levels.

  1. Eat chocolate.

Yep – you read that right. Studies have shown that people who eat at least 70% cacao dark chocolate on a weekly basis may have better heart health. Small portions of nutrient dark chocolate can lower your risk of heart disease by almost 40% and your risk of stroke by about 30%. Just be sure not to eat *too* much – you don’t want to pack on more pounds (see Tip #3!)

  1. Take your heart medication.

This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s far too easy to take medications improperly. Listen to your doctor’s instructions for your medicine, and be sure to take it on time, every day.

Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control the levels of blood cholesterol in your body, and medicines can help with your heart’s workload.

Statin drugs, which can lower your cholesterol levels, are normally prescribed for:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High levels of LDL cholesterol

Staying on top of what matters when it comes to your heart health and your risk for heart disease can go a long way toward good health.