According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack. This adds up to nearly 800,000 American men and women per year.
Many people think of heart attacks as happening without warning. But there are often signs well in advance. These come in the form of risk factors. Some risk factors, such as age, gender and ethnicity, can’t be changed. But others – weight, blood pressure and cholesterol – can be modified.
Understanding your individual risk – and taking steps to reduce it – is your best chance of preventing a heart attack. Start with these five steps:
- Get a low-dose CT scan – These scans can help prevent heart attacks by detecting coronary artery disease. Based on the level of calcium build-up in your coronary arteries, healthcare providers can better determine the best course of treatment. This may include medication, lifestyle modifications or a combination of the two. Anyone can get a low-dose CT scan and you don’t need a referral to get one.
- Clean up your diet – Focus on eating smaller portions with an emphasis on lean protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy fat. Because excess sugar is stored in your body as fat, try decreasing the amount of carbs you eat. It’s also a good idea to avoid saturated fat. Coconut oil is popular, but those at a higher risk of heart disease should steer clear. Instead, opt for olive oil, avocados and nuts.
- Get more exercise – The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes, five times per week. Here’s a simple way to determine if you’re exercising at the right intensity: make sure you’re out of breath and only able to speak a few words at a time. If you can hold a normal conversation, you aren’t working hard enough.
- Quit smoking – Even the occasional cigarette can increase your risk. To get help quitting smoking, enroll in a smoking cessation class.
- Schedule an annual exam – Regular check-ins with your primary care provider can help identify risk factors early on. Your doctor can also help you determine a course of action to lower your risk and improve your overall health.
To help Chicagoland residents lower their risk for heart attack – and other types of heart disease – Edward-Elmhurst Health offers a Lifestyle Under Construction program. During the 12-week program, participants work with a cardiac nurse, dietitian, exercise physiologist and clinical psychologist to learn how to prepare healthy meals at home, make exercise part of their daily routine and improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. The goal is to help participants lose weight and take control of their health. For more information, call 630-527-2825.