Tips to Lower Risk of a Heart Attack or Stroke

Sometimes, small changes to your lifestyle can really cut your odds of having a heart attack or stroke. Try this step-by-step approach.

1. Exercise a Little Each Day

Moderate physical activity lowers your chances of a heart attack. Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart pumping at least 5 days a week. Brisk walking or swimming are some good choices. On the other 2 days, do strength training, like lifting weights.

If you've got a tight schedule, break your exercise routine into small chunks. Try a 15-minute walk in the morning and another before lunch.

2. Set a Reasonable Goal for Weight Loss

If you're overweight or obese, you don't have to get thin to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke. If you lose 5% to 10% of your weight, you'll improve your cholesterol numbers and lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

3. Take Your Heart Medicine

It sounds like a no-brainer, but don't skip your meds. Many people don't take their medications the way their doctor told them to. Figure out what keeps you from taking your medicine -- it could be side effects, cost, or forgetfulness -- and ask your doctor for help.

4. Eat Well

If you stick to a healthy diet, you could lower your odds of getting heart disease.

Fill your plate with different kinds of:

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Lean meats

Stay away from processed or prepared foods that often are high in salt and added sugar. They’re also filled with preservatives.

5. Drink Some Alcohol, but Not Too Much

If you drink, any type of alcohol helps your heart, but use caution. Too much raises your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

To get the benefit without the risk, stop at one drink a day if you're a woman and two if you're a man.

6. Eat a Little Chocolate

Go for dark chocolate, and make sure the ingredients are at least 70% cacao. It's filled with nutrients that help protect your ticker.

Keep your portions small so you don't gain weight and work your heart harder.

7. Don't Smoke

Smoking dramatically raises your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Talk to your doctor about how to quit. You'll also be doing your friends and family a favor, since secondhand smoke can also lead to heart disease.

8. Pay Attention to Your Symptoms

Don't just hope they'll go away. See your doctor if you feel anything unusual, like shortness of breath, changes in your heart rhythm, or extreme tiredness. Also, watch for pain in your jaw or back, nausea or vomiting, sweating, or flu-like symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 27, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Lifestyle Changes," "Smoking: Do You Really Know the Risks?" "Professional Dental Cleanings May Reduce Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke," "Recommendations for Heart Health."

Buitrago-Lopez A. BMJ, August 2011.

CDC: "Losing Weight," "Physical Activity for Everyone."

"Exercise and Your Heart," "Diet."

Naderi, S. American Journal of Medicine, 2012. 

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