A healthy diet and adequate exercise can help prevent a heart attack.
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 659,000 deaths each year stem from heart-related causes, including those from heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This accounts for about 1 in every 4 deaths. The economic burden of heart disease is also enormous, totaling about $363 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity, the CDC reports. Many of these deaths could be prevented and the healthcare costs reduced through medication and changes in health habits, the CDC notes.
Unfortunately, certain risk factors for heart attack cannot be changed. For example, the risk of heart attack increases with age. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most people who die from a heart attack are 65 or older.
Additionally, people who have a family history of heart disease or more likely to get it themselves.
Gender is also a risk factor. Men have a higher risk of heart attack than women and also tend to have heart attacks earlier in life. However, women have a greater chance of dying from a heart attack, the AHA reports.
Black Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans are also at a greater risk of heart disease . According to the AHA, this is because these groups tend to have higher rates of risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
There are also modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels , and being overweight or obese, that can make a big difference in heart disease risk. The good news is that reducing these major risks for heart disease can help prevent future heart attacks.
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Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Heart Attacks
Lifestyle changes are your first line of defense against heart attacks. Most major risk factors for heart disease are related in some way to your lifestyle, including obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol levels .
You can take the following steps to lower your heart attack risk :
Smoking puts harmful chemicals in your bloodstream and is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD) , in which fatty deposits build up in your arteries.
Even if you already have heart disease, you’re more likely to have a heart attack — and to die from it — if you smoke than if you don’t.
If you have CAD and you smoke, you can reduce your risk of a recurrent heart attack and death from cardiovascular causes by as much as 50 percent by quitting, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit smoking if you’re unsure how to go about it successfully.
Increase Physical Activity
Exercise is a cornerstone of a heart-healthy lifestyle, which involves both aerobic and strength-building activities.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you should aim for two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, with activities such as taking a brisk walk.
As an alternative, you can perform 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running.
In addition, you should do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. These exercises should work all your major muscle groups — your legs, arms, chest, shoulders, abdomen, hips, and back.
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9 Diet and Heart Attack Prevention Tips
What and how much you eat can play a huge role in your heart attack risk. Take the following steps to achieve a heart-healthy diet:
1. Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day .
It’s a good idea to include a wide variety of fruit and vegetable types and colors.
2. Eat Fiber-Rich Grains and Legumes
Good grain-based choices include oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain wraps and breads.
Legumes include dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, and black-eyed peas.
3. Choose Lean Meats and Fatty Fish
Healthier meat and poultry choices include 95 percent lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, and skinless fresh chicken or turkey.
Fatty fish varieties are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and include salmon , tuna, and trout.
4. Get Healthy Fat From Nuts, Seeds, and Oils
Consuming healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can reduce your risk of heart disease .
Good sources of these fats include tree nuts (most nut varieties) , peanuts, seeds (such as sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower), and avocados , as well as canola, olive, safflower, and sunflower oils.
5. Limit Salt and Sodium
The American Heart Association recommends that most Americans consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day for optimal heart health.
The biggest source of sodium in most people’s diet is processed foods . Canned soups, sauces, deli meats, frozen dinners, packaged snacks, and bread are often very high in salt.
6. Cut Unhealthy Fat
Saturated and trans fats should be limited in your diet.
Sources of saturated fat include fatty meat and poultry, high-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils.
Foods that contain trans fats are made with partially hydrogenated oils, which should be avoided whenever possible. This ingredient is often found in packaged desserts and baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarine, and coffee creamers.
7. Limit Added Sugars
Added sugars take many forms, including brown sugar, regular or high-fructose corn syrup , sucrose, fructose, glucose, honey, and maple syrup.
Sweetened drinks and packaged snacks, pastries, and candies are the main sources of added sugars in the United States.
8. Drink in Moderation, if at All
Men should have no more than two drinks daily, while women should have only one drink, according to the CDC.
A drink typically consists of 12 ounces (oz) of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor (straight or mixed).
9. Watch Your Calories
You should eat the right amount of food to maintain a healthy body weight. This will depend on your age, sex, and activity level, among other factors.
Choosing smaller portions and eating slowly can help you cut calories and maintain a healthy weight.
Medicines to Prevent Heart Attacks
Depending on your medical history, your doctor may also recommend certain medicines to reduce your heart attack risk.
For example, if you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe a statin to help to lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, which may reduce your risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in your arteries).
Medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics , and beta blockers may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure .
Additional reporting by Ashley Welch