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Simple Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack, Say Doctors

Experts reveal seven ways to help prevent a heart attack. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds and oftentimes they can be avoided. "Ninety percent of the nearly 18 million heart disease cases worldwide could be prevented," the Cleveland Clinic states. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, it doesn't have to be inevitable. By practicing healthy habits you can greatly reduce the risk. "There are many things women and men can do to prevent a heart attack," says UC Irvine's Dr. Shaista Malik, a cardiologist specializing in cardiovascular imaging and public health. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Know Your Blood Pressure, Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

high blood pressure

One way to help avoid a heart attack is to "Start by knowing your numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar," says Dr. Malik, medical director of UC Irvine's Preventive Cardiology Program. "Almost 50 percent of people who die suddenly from a heart attack have no prior symptoms. Keeping tabs on these numbers gives you a good idea of your heart health."


Don't Smoke

no smoking sign

The Mayo Clinic states, "One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco. Even if you're not a smoker, be sure to avoid secondhand smoke. Chemicals in tobacco can damage the heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in the blood, which increases blood pressure and heart rate because the heart has to work harder to supply enough oxygen to the body and brain."


Get Good Quality Sleep

man stressed in bed that he can't sleep

According to the Mayo Clinic, "People who don't get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it's easier to sleep."


Manage Stress

woman trouble sleeping while dealing with menopause

Most of us can't completely get rid of stress–it's just part of life, but managing it can help improve overall health and lower the risk of a heart attack, the Mayo Clinic says. "Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health."


Maintain a Healthy Weight

The woman squeeze her tummy.

Having a healthy lifestyle does wonders for your health, including lowering the risk of a heart attack. The American Heart Association states, "Obesity is highly prevalent in America, not only for adults but also for children. Fad diets and supplements are not the answer. Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and physical activity are the only way to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity places you at risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes — the very factors that heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) can help tell you if your weight is healthy."

The Mayo Clinic shares how to measure your tell if you have too much abdominal fat and why losing excess weight is vital. 

"Waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much belly fat you have. The risk of heart disease is higher if the waist measurement is greater than:

  • 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm) for men
  • 35 inches (88.9 cm) for women

Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing weight by just 3% to 5% can help decrease certain fats in the blood (triglycerides), lower blood sugar (glucose) and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Losing even more helps lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol level."


Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

woman with chicken salad, weights, and yoga matt

Eating clean and healthy not only feels good, but helps prevent major health issues. The AHA says, "A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. Choose a diet that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats.  And to maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you take in."


Squeeze in Your Daily Exercise

senior woman lifting weights

It's hard to think about working out sometimes because of how busy our lives and schedules can be. But breaking a sweat daily can help save your life. The Mayo Clinic says, "Regular, daily physical activity can lower the risk of heart disease. Physical activity helps control your weight. It also reduces the chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on the heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

If you haven't been active for a while, you may need to slowly work your way up to these goals, but in general, you should do aim for at least:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace
  • 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running
  • Two or more strength training sessions a week"
Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather