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A heart attack is a scary condition which affects 735,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. Heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when there is not enough blood flow to the heart due to narrowed or blocked arteries. Arteries become blocked when there is a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances which form plaque. The heart muscle becomes permanently damaged by a heart attack, and often, it can be fatal. Symptoms of heart attack include pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing sensation in the chest, arms, jaw or back; nausea, indigestion or heart burn; shortness of breath; cold sweat; fatigue; or lightheadedness or sudden dizziness. The good news is, there are many things you can do to reduce the risk of heart attack. Certain lifestyle changes geared toward making you healthy and fit, like the ones mentioned below, will get you on the right track to cardiovascular health.

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Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are vital for a healthy heart. They are naturally high in fiber, which lowers ‘bad' LDL cholesterol by binding to it and flushing it out of the body. Fruits and vegetables are virtually free from fat and cholesterol, which are the leading causes of dangerous buildup in the arteries. It is widely acknowledged that a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is imperative to coronary heart disease (CHD) prevention. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that "higher intake of a plant-based diet index rich in healthier plant foods is associated with substantially lower CHD risk."

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Eat more whole grains

If you're focused on eating a heart-healthy diet, nix the white flour and reach for a whole-grain option instead. Whole grains contain protein, fiber, and other nutrients than white flour dors not. The fiber in whole grain bread, crackers, or pasta will help to lower your cholesterol levels—reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The fiber will also help you feel full for longer so that you don't snack on foods you're better off without. The nutrients in whole grains including B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium, are all essential in the regeneration of cells, carrying oxygen throughout the body, regulating the thyroid, and boosting immune function.

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Eat lean protein

There is evidence that suggests that most people are eating too much protein. We don't necessarily need to eat protein at every meal, and we certainly do not need to eat animal protein at every meal—or even every day. Meat is high in saturated fat, causing ‘bad' LDL cholesterol levels to increase—a no-no for heart health. Cut back on red meat and opt for poultry and fish instead. Even better, add more plant protein to your diet and eat beans, pumpkin seeds, asparagus, and quinoa for a healthy serving of protein.

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Eat less sodium

Excess sodium in the system can cause blood pressure to increase, putting your heart at risk for cardiovascular disease.  When you eat foods with a lot of salt, or sodium, it causes the body to retain too much water. The result is excess fluid buildup which is connected to heart failure. You can control blood pressure and swelling in the body by decreasing your sodium intake. Stick to no more than 2,000 milligrams a day—under 1,500 mg is even better.

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Exercise regularly

Research shows that those who do not exercise are twice as likely to get cardiovascular disease as those who regularly work out. Regular exercise will strengthen your heart—which is just an ever-active muscle. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, improving circulation and bringing more oxygen throughout the body. Working out also reduces blood pressure. Exercise increases muscle strength and endurance, enabling you to do harder tasks for longer periods of time without becoming winded. There is no question that a healthy heart requires regular physical activity, so get those running shoes out and lace up!

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Quit smoking

If you want to live a heart-healthy life, the first thing you need to do is to stop smoking. Smoking causes damage to the arteries, leading to buildup which narrows the artery and increases the risk of heart attack. People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease, and about 1 out of 5 deaths from heart disease are related to smoking. If you think that smoking only affects you, you are (quite literally) dead wrong. Secondhand smoke can also cause heart disease and lung cancer—even for those who don't smoke themselves. Do yourself and your family a big favor and kick the habit—your heart and lungs will thank you.

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Reduce or eliminate stressors

Stress, anxiety, and depression all trigger a release of the stress hormone cortisol which can cause weight gain and high blood pressure. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, a health care counselor can help you deal with stressors and provide coping methods. Pick a new hobby—something that you've always wanted to do—and take some time out of every day to devote to your new hobby, or to relaxing. Some things that can help you de-stress include yoga, knitting, walking outside, or reading. A little relaxation goes a long way.

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Lower your cholesterol

When there is too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, it sticks to the artery walls causing buildup, or plaque. The arteries narrow from of the buildup, disallowing the proper oxygen supply to reach the heart. This causes a heart attack. Lowering cholesterol levels is usually possible with lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and exercising; however, for some people, high cholesterol levels are hereditary. Those individuals who live with chronically elevated cholesterol levels may be prescribed a medication to bring those levels down.

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Lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known as the "silent killer" because it can be fatal even though many times there are no obvious symptoms. High blood pressure is when your heart is pumping hard, and the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels is too high. When left untreated, hypertension can cause permanent damage to the circulatory system, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. One way to reduce your blood pressure is to reduce your sodium or salt intake. If you have chronically high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe you medication to bring it down.

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Sleep

According to a statement by the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality is linked to obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease. Most adults are putting themselves at risk of developing a heart-related disease by not getting enough sleep. The recommended amount of sleep per night for adults is seven hours.

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Preventative tests and screenings

If you attend your regular checkups which include monitoring your blood pressure and performing blood tests, you are reducing the risk of having a heart attack. Just like any disease, catching high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels early is your best chance for living a long and healthy life. If your results come out less-than-optimal, your doctor will discuss your options.

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Prevention is the best medicine. Before you find out that you are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease implement small changes that make a difference.


Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.