Heart attacks and strokes are two of the main causes of sudden death among both women and men in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 90 seconds someone dies from a heart attack, while every 4 minutes someone dies of a stroke.
Both heart attacks and strokes occur due to some kind of interruption in the normal blood flow to the heart or brain.
Due to lack of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, heart or brain cells cannot function properly, at times leading to a heart attack or stroke.
During a heart attack, blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. A stroke occurs when blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted.
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack are unexplained dizziness, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.
On the other hand, signs and symptoms of a stroke are sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, face drooping, difficulty talking and sudden headache.
Some of the risk factors for heart attacks and strokes are high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, age, smoking, excessive drinking and prior history of strokes or heart attacks.
Another risk factor for heart attacks is physical inactivity. Additional risk factors for strokes are genetics and use of birth control bills. While men are at a greater risk of having a heart attack, women are more prone to suffer a stroke.
Heart attacks and strokes are two deadly problems, but you can take necessary steps to reduce your risk of having them.
Here are the top 10 tips to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
1. Stay Informed
Ignorance about your health can put you at a higher risk of heart disease and other problems. Hence, the best prevention against heart attacks and strokes is to understand the risk factors and treatment options.
Some risk factors for a heart attack or stroke that you can control or manage are high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, smoking and stress.
Also, talk to your doctor if you have any health problem. Take note of his or her instructions. Do not forget to take medicines as prescribed. If you are not able to take your medicines due to side effects, cost or forgetfulness, ask your doctor for help.
As new techniques and insights develop constantly in medicine, try to remain informed. Consult your doctor about new medicines and procedures.
Plus, stay informed about the warning signs and the necessary steps to take (calling an ambulance right away) when a heart attack or stroke strikes.
2. Stop Smoking
Smoking and use of any other form of tobacco increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and according to a 2009 study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, smoking cessation can be highly effective for improving cardiovascular health.
The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the blood cells, which in turn can affect the functioning of your heart and blood vessels. This increases your risk of atherosclerosis, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
At the same time, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase your risk of lung disease, peripheral vascular disease and strokes.
When it comes to heart disease or stroke prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Hence, if you smoke, quit today. If you know someone who smokes, encourage him or her to quit. Also, take necessary steps to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
3. Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
Being careful about what you eat can help lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, improving your diet is an important step toward preventing heart disease. Try to eat nutrient-rich foods that have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but are lower in calories.
- Eat 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits daily.
- Eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal at least 4 times a week.
- Eat more cereals, legumes, whole-grain foods and low-fat dairy products.
- Eat cold-water fish like salmon and tuna at least twice a week.
- Avoid high-fat and high-sugar products and reduce your salt intake.
- Use healthy cooking oil like olive, canola, sunflower and safflower oil.
- Instead of deep-frying, prepare your foods by grilling, boiling, steaming and baking.
4. Exercise a Little Everyday
Regular exercise can help manage heart disease and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, the more you exercise, the lower your risk.
People who are active have fewer heart attacks and have a better chance of recovery than people who lead a sedentary lifestyle, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Regular exercise benefits the heart in many ways, such as reducing body weight, blood pressure, and bad (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and total cholesterol levels. It also helps increase your good (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
According to the AHA, 30 minutes of physical exercise, five days a week can help improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Some good exercises for your heart are playing sports, walking, jogging, swimming, biking and more.
5. Maintain Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight, especially carrying fat around your waist, increases the risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. All these factors heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease.
You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference to find out whether you have a healthy percentage of body fat and excess weight. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is healthy. If your BMI is 30 or more, you are overweight.
Also, men with a waist measurement of greater than 40 inches and women with a waist measurement of greater than 35 inches are overweight.
If you are already overweight, lose some pounds to protect yourself from a heart attack or stroke. Strive to lose weight slowly and avoid crash dieting. You can always get help from an expert in weight loss.
6. Control Your Stress Level
According to a 2014 study done at the University of Pittsburgh, stress as well as anger, anxiety and depression not only affect the functioning of the heart, but also increase the risk for heart disease.
Persisting stress increases the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by evoking negative emotions, which in turn raise the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body called cytokines.
In addition, people who are under stress are more likely to adopt unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking too much and overeating.
If you suffer from stress, identify the triggers and try to avoid them. Also, try to avoid situations and people who make you anxious or angry.
Some other stress-busting tips include being physically active, relaxing your mind (try mediation or yoga), taking time to laugh, taking vacations at regular intervals and spending time on your favorite hobby.