According to the British Heart Foundation, around 103,000 people suffer a heart attack each year in the UK and this is the leading cause of death related to heart disease. However, even if you have a risk factor for heart disease, such as a family history of the disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, a heart attack is not inevitable, as there are various steps you can take to lower your risk.
Follow a Cardio-protective Diet
Whether or not you have weight to lose, you should stick to a well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients to promote a healthy heart. This means including plenty of whole grains, pulses, fruit and vegetables, along with moderate portions of lean proteins, such as poultry, game meat and fish, low-fat dairy produce and foods rich in monounsaturated fat. Plant-based foods are an important part of the diet to prevent a heart attack, as they provide soluble fibre to lower your levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as antioxidants that protect the health of your blood vessels. Meanwhile, lean proteins are low in saturated fat, which promotes healthy cholesterol levels, while oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower your risk of heart disease. Besides choosing olive or rapeseed oil for monounsaturated fat, avocados, nuts and seeds also provide these fats in plentiful supply, which is good news, as Heart Research advises this is the healthiest type of fat for your cholesterol level. As a diet high in salt may raise your blood pressure, you should try to use alternative seasonings in cooking, avoid processed foods where possible and check food labels to choose those items that provide least salt.
Lose Excess Weight
If your body mass index is greater than 25, this increases your risk of heart disease, as you are more likely to develop high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, diabetes and a blood clot, all of which are risk factors for a heart attack. A healthy diet, portion control and exercise will help most people to lose weight, but as it is difficult to change ingrained habits, seeking one-to-one or group support can increase your chances of successfully making changes to your lifestyle.
Keep Physically Active
Taking part in regular exercise not only aids weight loss, but it promotes stronger cardiac muscle, reduces blood pressure, raises protective HDL cholesterol and makes your blood less likely to clot. Current physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, which can include brisk walking, dancing, an exercise class, cycling, swimming or any sport. If you have not exercised for some time, you should build up gradually to these targets and it is reassuring to know that blocks of just 10 minutes of activity can all count towards your weekly goal.
Smoking is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease according to Action on Smoking and Health, so if you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do to prevent a heart attack. After just a year of giving up cigarettes your risk of a heart attack is half that of a smoker, so you will quickly gain benefits from quitting your habit. Although it is not easy to stop smoking, with support from smoking cessation advisors and the help of nicotine replacement products or medication, this greatly increases your chances of quitting for good.
Drink in Moderation
Although a daily glass of red wine may benefit post-menopausal women and older men, heavy consumption of alcohol has a negative effect on your heart and blood vessels. Therefore drinking within the recommended limits of 21 units for a man and 14 units for women each week is vital and ideally you should spread your drinking out over the week. Doing so will help to prevent weight gain, high blood pressure and high triglycerides, another type of blood fat that increases your risk of a heart attack.
Manage medical risk factors
If you have raised blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, following the guidance from your doctor on how best to manage these is essential. This may mean making changes to your lifestyle and taking medications to get these heart attack risk factors under control. You should also attend for regular check-ups to allow your doctor to monitor how effective your current management is, as they can then adjust your treatment plan if necessary.