It’s no secret that heart attacks are among the biggest threats to the health of American adults. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 1.2 million heart attacks occur in the US each year. Of this figure, roughly 600,000 heart attacks prove to be fatal. In many cases, a heart attack will strike down someone at a still relatively young age; James Gandolfini, a well-known film and television actor, died in June 2013 from a heart attack while vacationing in Italy. He was only 51 years old.
As prevalent as heart attacks may be, they are far from inevitable. Heart attacks, along with the medical conditions that can trigger them (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease), are often self-inflicted wounds. By strictly adhering to a number of health-related guidelines, you can greatly improve the overall condition of your heart and cardiovascular system.
Kick Your Smoking Habit to The Curb – Thanks to decades of educational programs and advertising campaigns, virtually everyone is aware of the many consequences of smoking. Unfortunately, though cigarettes have suffered a much-deserved drop in popularity, there are still more than 45 million smokers in the United States. In addition to increasing your risk of lung cancer and stroke, a persistent smoking habit also puts the body at greater risk of heart attack.
Quitting smoking can be made into a much more attainable goal with the use of nicotine patches. Nicotine patches work by slowly weaning a smoker off of nicotine, the substance that makes cigarettes so addicting. Over a period of several months, a smoker uses patches with fewer and fewer amounts of nicotine, to the point that he or she is able to live completely without it. Smoker support groups might also be helpful.
Exercise Regularly – Exercise is frequently extolled for its ability to trim waistlines and bolster muscle mass. What you may not have realized is that exercising regularly can also ward off heart attacks. While the word “muscles” probably brings to mind images of toned biceps and chests, your heart also qualifies as a muscle.
The exercises that are especially beneficial to the heart are referred to as cardiovascular activities. Exercises that fall into the “cardiovascular” category include running, jogging, walking, swimming and bicycling. If possible, aim for three 30-minute cardiovascular sessions per week.
Get Enough Sleep – When the topic of sleep is brought up in a news article, two themes will probably be mentioned – it’s very good for the body, and we often don’t get enough of it. Both statements are solidly supported by mounds of evidence. The body needs about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at optimal capacity. Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related ailments.
Insufficient sleep doesn’t just make you overly reliant on coffee to get through the day. People who struggle with sleep are more likely to be stricken with heart trouble. A study by Harvard University, which spanned one full decade and included some 70,000 female participants, established a solid link between a lack of sleep and heart disease. Specifically, the subjects who slept for less than five hours nightly increased their risk of developing heart disease by 40 percent. Not surprisingly, many patients with heart disease later fall victim to heart attacks.
Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels – Chances are, you’ve heard much about the risks of high cholesterol, and the need to keep it at an acceptable level. What many fail to realize is that your body contains not one, but two types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL. HDL cholesterol, referred to as the “good” kind of cholesterol, is used by the body to remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. On the flip side of the coin, an excessive amount of LDL cholesterol can accumulate on the walls of your arteries in the form of plaque. If left unchecked, this plaque buildup often leads to blockages, thereby initiating a heart attack.
Quitting smoking and regular exercise are both useful weapons for combating LDL cholesterol. However, your cholesterol and your diet are invariably linked. Consuming doughnuts, butter, hot dogs, whole milk and other foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat will cause your LDL levels to spike. Replace this junk food with nuts, apples, strawberries, whole grains, oats, beans and fish, all of which can lead to healthier cholesterol readings.
Maintain A Healthy Blood Pressure – High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) has a somewhat indirect relationship to heart attacks, but there is still a definite link between the two conditions. Elevated blood pressure levels dish out a pounding to the walls of your arteries, the vessels that carry blood away from the heart. In their weakened state, the arteries are far more susceptible to narrowing in size. When combined with buildups of plaque, these damaged arteries often precipitate a heart attack.
Hypertension can be cured with the familiar blend of exercise and diet. Try and squeeze 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise into your weekly routine (alternatively, you could also opt for 75 minutes of vigorous weekly exercise). In addition, the body benefits greatly from twice weekly strength training sessions.
When it comes to your diet, focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy offerings. Avoid foods high in sodium, an ingredient which lurks in products such as potato chips, frozen pizzas and cold cuts. Finally, make a concerted effort to limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages.