Heart attacks scare many as much as the fabled “Big C,” and for a good reason. Cardiovascular issues remain the number one killer of both men and women.
You can’t control all heart attack risk factors. If you were born with a genetic propensity for high blood pressure, you might need medication for life. Likewise, some congenital defects may increase your odds of ticker trouble.
However, there are several circumstances that you can and should manage. Here are eight risk factors for heart attack that you can control and tips for achieving optimal cardiovascular health.
1. Your Weight
You’ve heard the advice so many times that you want to scream — however, folks repeat it because it’s true. One risk factor for heart attacks that you can control is your weight. Excess pounds elevate your chances of a cardiovascular event.
However, while it’s easy to say “eat less and move more,” the reality proves frustrating for many. You need to average 500 fewer calories daily to lose a pound a week.
With the holidays here, though, you might want to indulge a little. If you overdo it at one meal, try to curb your intake for the next few to make up the balance. Increasing your activity helps too, but generally not as much as moderating your consumption.
2. Your Physical Activity Levels
Exercise can help you keep off the unwanted pounds. Furthermore, although working out increases both heart rate and pressure while you pump iron or run laps, it also signals the release of feel-good endorphins. These opioid-like body chemicals tell your vessels to relax after exertion. When they do, they decrease your overall blood pressure.
Plus, exercise lowers your resting heart rate (RHR). While traditional guidelines consider an RHR between 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM) as normal, more recent research suggests that an RHR over 76 BPM increases heart attack risk. According to Susan Steinbaum, MD and director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital, keeping it closer to 70 is your best bet.
3. Your Saturated Fat Intake
Few people dig into a juicy burger, thinking that it’s good for their health. However, reducing your consumption of saturated fats — which typically originate from animal proteins — can substantially lower your heart attack risk.
According to a review of 15 studies containing more than 59,000 participants, reducing your saturated fat intake can slash heart attack risk by as much as 21%. The effect occurs because saturated fats cause cholesterol to accumulate in your arteries and veins. Too much cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular events.
4. Your Salt Intake
Do you dump half a shaker on your fries? If you want to control one risk factor for heart attacks, you’ll learn to prefer your food without a side of dry mouth.
According to the National Institutes of Health, cohort studies show that a 5-gram increase in salt consumption — approximately 2,000 milligrams daily — increased heart attack risk by 17%. It also upped your risk of stroke.
Salt pulls water into your blood vessels, which increases the pressure on their walls. This condition makes your heart work harder, which can lead to a heart attack.
5. Your Alcohol Consumption
Do you justify more than a glass of red wine nightly, claiming that it’s for your “heart health?” If so, you are doing more harm than good. While a single glass may provide modest benefits, it’s safer to pass on the bottle.
Long-term, heavy drinking increases your blood pressure and can contribute to cardiomyopathy, or weakening of the heart muscle. Additionally, drinking contributes to excess weight gain, which can likewise up your cardiovascular risk.
6. Your Prediabetes Status
According to a recent CDC report, over 100 million Americans now live with diabetes or a prediabetic condition, which puts their tickers at increased risk. Experts recognize that heart attack risk increases in those with a diagnosis.
While Type 1 diabetes results from an autoimmune disease, you can prevent the Type 2 form. Start by eliminating foods like refined flours and sugars from your diet. Manufacturers strip the nutrient-dense bran during processing, leaving behind a calorie-dense but non-nutritive glue that your body quickly converts to sugar.
When you have excess sugar, or glucose, in your blood, your pancreas produces more insulin. However, as your body becomes immune to that hormone’s impact, supply no longer keeps up with demand, and diabetes develops. A low-carb diet rich in whole foods can reverse mild insulin resistance and restore your system to balance — if you catch it early.
7. Your Tobacco Use
Nicotine causes your arteries’ walls to harden, and when these become thick and narrow, blood doesn’t flow efficiently. Your heart has to work harder, leading to an attack.
Likewise, smoking also raises your triglyceride levels. This type of fat can accumulate in your blood vessels, leading to trouble.
8. Your Stress Levels
Finally, recent research out of Australia shows that chronic stress can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure high. While most folks feel an increase in blood pressure and heart rate when they spy an angry bear, their levels return to normal after the danger passes. However, ongoing tension never lets your body relax.
High blood pressure causes your heart to work faster. Fortunately, you can decrease stress through exercise, yoga, meditation or engaging in a hobby you love.
Control These 8 Risk Factors for Heart Attack and Enjoy a Longer, Healthier Life
Controlling your risk factors for heart attack can lead to a longer, higher-quality life. Use these tips to avoid the number one killer of men and women.