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5 Ways to Bulletproof Your Heart, According to a Doctor

Control the risk factors you can control, says Dr. Monique May.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek
Woman making a heart gesture with her fingers in front of her chest.

Do you protect your heart as well as you protect yourself against COVID-19? Although you're right to take precautions against viruses big and small, it's heart disease that remains the #1 cause of death in America. Dr. Monique May, a board-certified physician, and founder of Physician in the Kitchen, based in Charlotte, NC, helps her patients make sure they have the healthiest hearts possible. Read on for her free and essential 5-point plan for making sure yours is as healthy as it can be—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.

1

Control the Risk Factors for Heart Disease That You Can Control

Doctor Monique May

Dr, May lists the factors you can control, and advises how to get a handle on them:

  • "If you smoke, stop.  
  • If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to make sure your blood pressure remains < 120/80.  
  • If you have high cholesterol, discuss with your doctor ways to lower your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol through diet, exercise, and medication.  
  • If you have diabetes, aim for a target HgbA1c of less than 6.5%.  
  • Try to maintain an ideal weight for your height. 
  • If you are obese (BMI >30), then try to lose at least 10% of your current weight.  Speak with your doctor about the best way to achieve this." For the next four steps, read on.

2

Sleep Your Best

Young happy woman woke up in the morning in the bedroom by the window with her back
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"Get adequate amounts of sleep and reduce your stress levels as well," says Dr. May. She's right. "Researchers found that the risk of heart attack increased the further that people's habitual night sleep diverged from 6–9 hours. Individuals who slept 5 hours each night, for example, had a 52% higher risk of a first heart attack than those who slept 7–8 hours," reports Medical News Daily.

3

Reduce Your Stress

Relaxed happy young man resting having nap on comfortable couch breathing fresh air
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It's almost a cliché out of a movie—some guy gets a stressful phone call with bad news and drops dead of a heart attack. But it can happen. And the wear and tear of constant stress can also hurt your heart, especially if you're a woman. "Women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's," says the Mayo Clinic. "Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms of depression."

4

Eat a Diet Rich in Fruits and Vegetables

Young healthy laughing african woman eating breakfast and fruits in kitchen in the morning
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May says to eat a diet "rich in fruits and vegetables. They contain antioxidants and plant chemicals that can prevent and reverse heart disease," says May. "Try to eat 5-13 servings per day, including nuts, grains, and seeds."

RELATED: The Easiest Way to Avoid a Heart Attack, Say Doctors

5

Watch for Any Signs of a Heart Attack

A man experiencing discomfort in his upper arm
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If you feel chest pain, weak or lightheaded, or pain in your jaw, neck, back, arms or shoulders, you may be having a heart attack. Also watch for shortness of breath while lying down. It can be described as having difficulty laying down and breathing simultaneously. "People with this condition often have to prop themselves up with pillows in order to sleep at night because when they lie flat they may feel like they are being suffocated or drowning," explains May. "If you are having to use two or more pillows to prop your head up so that you can breathe and lie down at the same time, it may be a sign that your heart is failing and you should see a doctor immediately." Contact your medical professional if you're feeling any of these symptoms, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more