Some of the risk factors that are associated with heart attacks are things that you can’t change — such as your age. However, there are risk factors you can address that reduce your likelihood of having a heart attack.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, many of our patients have both types of risk factors. Our outstanding providers can help you understand what kinds of lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart attack.
Three categories of risk
Cardiologists classify risk into three broad categories:
- Major risk factors — significantly increase your chance of having cardiovascular disease
- Modifiable risk factors — can be changed
- Contributable risk factors — have an unclear association with cardiovascular disease
Some of the major risk factors that can’t be changed are things like your age, sex, and family history. If you have one or more risks you can’t change, it’s even more important to make adjustments to those you can change.
5 modifiable risk factors
Making lifestyle changes can be challenging, but certainly not more challenging than learning to live with heart failure or worse. By addressing the following five areas, you lessen your chance of having a heart attack — and improve your overall health.
1. Quit smoking
You already know that it’s bad for you, but you might think that tobacco smoke mostly raises your risk for developing lung cancer. The fact is, if you smoke, your chances of having a heart attack are far higher when compared to a person who doesn’t smoke.
Smoking damages your blood vessels, making them less flexible. Additionally, smoking interacts with other risk factors, so while it’s an independent risk factor, it also impacts the severity of other risk factors.
2. Change your diet
If you have high blood cholesterol, you have a higher risk of heart attack. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk. Cholesterol levels aren’t entirely modifiable, because your age, sex, and family history play a role, but you can help lower your cholesterol through your diet.
To help lower your cholesterol, choose a heart-healthy diet that’s composed of whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables and low in sodium, red meat, processed foods, dairy, fried foods, and sugary foods and beverages.
3. Exercise regularly
If you work at a desk all day, then come home and watch TV for a little while before going to bed, you live a fairly sedentary lifestyle. Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart attack.
Even if you aren’t sitting at a desk at work, you probably aren’t getting your heart rate up. It’s important to exercise for about 30 minutes a day, or 150 minutes a week, at a level that makes you a bit breathless.
If you’re not sure what your target heart rate is for exercise, we can help you figure that out.
4. Lower stress
Life is often hectic and difficult. Having your doctor tell you to lower your stress levels can feel frustrating. Here are some actionable tips:
- Practice meditation or breathing exercises for five minutes each day
- Schedule time for a hobby you enjoy
- Work on your sleep hygiene
- Exercise, outside if at all possible
- Reduce the number of voluntary obligations in your life
Essentially, lowering stress involves stepping back a little and making more time to take care of yourself. It can be challenging, but the effort is worth the result.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Happily, all of the other tips in this post can help you lose extra weight, and can help you stay at a healthy weight. Exercise, a healthy diet, better sleep, and less stress have all been shown to help people lose weight.
If you have known risk factors for coronary heart disease, or you have questions about what you can do to lower your risk, schedule an appointment at one of our three Heart & Vascular Institute offices, in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan.
Our providers and staff are happy to answer your questions and help you reduce your risk of heart attack!