By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Preventing a heart attack (and heart disease) is relatively simple when you get down to it. It’s all about making healthy choices on a daily basis.
If you want to help ensure that your heart keeps beating strong, start doing these five things today.
1. Give up Smoking
Smoking can be a tough habit to kick, but it’s essential that you do if you want to prevent a heart attack. There simply is no habit more destructive to the body or the cardiovascular system. Each puff floods your bloodstream with ammonia, arsenic, cadmium, lead, formaldehyde, and hundreds more chemicals that promote atherosclerosis and raise risk for heart attack and stroke.
Secondhand smoke is no better—so don’t think you’re off the hook if your spouse or friends smoke but you don’t. Breathing secondhand smoke immediately makes blood platelets stickier and more likely to clot. If you have diagnosed heart disease, secondhand smoke can be just as risky as smoking your own cigarette.
Learn some tips to finally kick the smoking habit.
2. Lean on Your Support Network
Whether it comes from the daily frustrations of being in a bad job or a difficult relationship, or from the sudden loss of a vital connection, stress takes a toll on the heart and arteries.
If you’re struggling, reach out to trusted friends and family for support. Connection with each other helps us keep the small stuff in perspective, and more importantly, it helps us find our way through the sadness, rage, and vulnerability that follow major losses. Playing the tough guy won’t get you anywhere—except maybe the emergency room.
I used to see the importance of connection in my patients. Those who tried to cope with the end of a relationship without looking to others for support ultimately became more vulnerable to disease progression and became sicker. On the other hand, the folks who were able to lean on the other people in their lives—or meet new ones—stayed healthier and had better outcomes.
Learn 10 more ways to help manage your stress.
3. Pay Attention to Your Scale
Losing weight is one of the best ways to prevent a heart attack—and research shows that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. About 5–11 pounds will reduce blood pressure, lower inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity.
As a cardiologist, I worry a lot about obesity and overweight because fat tissue (belly fat, especially) produces hormones and proteins that change our metabolism and cause inflammation. The more of it you have, the more of those hormones and proteins you create.
To jumpstart weight loss, I’d suggest making a couple small but manageable changes. First, take a 10–15 minute daily walk, building gradually to 30 minutes. Second, reduce sweets and refined carbohydrates to no more than 10–15 percent of your daily calories.
Learn more weight loss strategies.
4. Say No to “Convenience Foods”
Making dinner from a box, or picking it up at a drive-thru, may be easy, but it’s not healthy. Packaged and processed foods are loaded with preservatives, flavor enhancers, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners that inflame the blood and increase cardiovascular risk.
You’ll have much better luck preventing a heart attack if you opt for the high-vibrational foods that are part of my PAMM (Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean) diet. This way of eating is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. Don’t forget to buy organic, either. It’s the only way to avoid the toxic effects of pesticide residue and GMOs.
5. Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol is famous for the damage it inflicts on the liver, but it can also put you at risk for heart disease.
You’ll be fine winding down at night with a glass of wine, since one drink a day has been shown to actually protect the heart. But if you indulge beyond that, the metabolites of alcohol start eating away at your arteries, and may even interfere with the electrical signals that govern your heartbeat.
Binge drinking, for example, is associated with sudden-onset arrhythmias and heart attacks. In fact, during my days in the cardiac ward, we used to call it “holiday heart syndrome” because so many cases came in around the end of the year, when holiday parties were raging. Chronic, heavy drinking can be even more dangerous because long-term exposure to alcohol metabolites can lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy—a type of heart failure.
If you want to prevent a heart attack and keep yourself healthy, stop at one drink. No exceptions. And if you already have some form of heart disease, it’s best not to drink at all. Even though your risk may be small, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- CDC. “Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.” Smoking and Tobacco Use. Accessed online on Feb 15, 2017.
- CDC. “Smoking and Tobacco Use; Fact Sheet; Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking.” Smoking and Tobacco Use. Accessed online on Oct. 13, 2014.
- American Chemical Society. “Tobacco and its evil cousin nicotine are good as a pesticide.” Accessed online on Oct. 13, 2014.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.