2,200 deaths per day. 2 million heart attacks and strokes each year. That’s what makes cardiovascular disease the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The statics alone are startling, but there is good news. While some cardiovascular diseases are genetically caused, you have a fair amount of control over your heart’s health in most cases. It often takes many years to build up to a heart attack, but people in their 20s can experience them. Here are a few lifestyle changes you can implement right now in order to prevent a heart attack.
1. Know the signs.
Knowledge will be one of your best fighters against heart attacks and heart disease. If you are having a heart attack, the first few hours are critical to minimize any long-term effects. Some of the typical warning signs of heart attack include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations
- Jaw pain
- Arm pain
- Back pain
Less typical symptoms that are more commonly seen in women and diabetic patients include:
- Upper abdominal pain
2. Exercise regularly.
It’s one of the most common things you can do to keep healthy, but people who exercise regularly will live longer, 3 years longer in fact, according to ABC. Carve out a time to do 15-20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times per week; make it part of your morning routine. “Vigorous” simply means you are just barely able to carry on a conversation while exercising. Make it easy on yourself by choosing a form of exercise you enjoy because you’ll be more inclined to do it regularly.
3. Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
Smoking is bad for you. This is nothing new. Do whatever you can right now to cut the habit. Alcohol consumption is OK, as long as it’s in moderation. The maximum suggested daily limit is a half pint of beer or a glass of wine, or about half that much of liquor.
4. Dietary changes.
Unfortunately, most of the readily available American food is not very healthy to eat at all, but with a little work, it’s easy to do. Work to lower your fat intake to between 25-35 percent of your daily calories. The healthiest foods to eat are low in fat, cholesterol and salt, and your diet should be high in protein and should also contain fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some simple ways to change your diet are:
- Cook for yourself so you know what’s going in.
- Use olive oil over butter when cooking.
- Eliminate fast food and pack a lunch for work or when you’re traveling
5. Have blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes tests performed regularly.
If you have diabetes or elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels, then you are at a much greater risk for experiencing a heart attack. However, by following the previously laid out dietary and exercise guidelines, these should all remain in check.
Remember there are two types of cholesterol: HDL or “good” cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Keep your total levels below 200 milligrams per deciliter, with your LDL levels lower than 100 mg/dL.
If you follow these major criteria, your chances of heart attack will be decreased. But, keep in mind you don’t have to be militant about following them. You can still enjoy yourself by eating junk food or a sugary dessert every once in a while, just don’t make it a habit.
For more information on how to prevent heart attacks, visit the American Heart Association’s website.
About the Author
Erin Leigh is a freelance writer for Medical ID Bracelet Marketplace, a Hope Paige company that provides stylish medical alert bracelets for those with allergies, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and more.