If You Want to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk, There’s One Habit You Should Ditch ASAP

If You Want to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk, There's One Habit You Should Ditch ASAP

Woman holding a small red heart

In the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. It’s shocking, right? Considering how common—and serious—having a heart attack is, it’s natural to want to know how to reduce your risk of having one. Here’s the good news: The vast majority of heart attacks are preventable.

The key to never having a heart attack is knowing what the risk factors are and avoiding habits that make experiencing a heart attack more likely. There’s one habit in particular that cardiologists agree that no one should ever do.

Related: Your Live-Well Guide to Maintaining Heart Health and Preventing Heart Disease

Who Is Most at Risk for Having a Heart Attack?

According to Dr. Gregory Pontone, MD MBA, a cardiologist and the Associate Medical Director of Ambulatory Quality and Physician Services at White Plains Hospital, five primary factors put someone at an increased risk for experiencing a heart attack, which are listed below:

  • Age: Dr. Pontone explains that people 65 and older are at increased risk of having a heart attack. This is because fat deposits can accumulate in the artery walls over time. Eventually, this cumulative damage can be dangerous, making heart attack and heart disease more likely.
  • Gender: “Men generally face a higher risk of heart attack compared to women, though the risk for women rises post-menopause,” Dr. Pontone says. The reason why men are at an increased risk is because they are more likely to engage in habits that are harmful to heart health, such as smoking. Additionally, hormones may play a protective role and help lower the risk for premenopausal women.
  • Family history: As with most other health conditions, Dr. Pontone says that having a family history of heart attacks makes someone more likely to experience one themself.
  • Medical conditions: “Conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease heighten the risk,” Dr. Pontone says.
  • Lifestyle factors: Last, but certainly not least, Dr. Pontone says that having a sedentary lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, smoking and drinking alcohol in excess all significantly increase the risk of a heart attack.

Related: This Is the #1 Sign That Someone Has a Healthy Heart, According to Cardiologists

The One Habit to Avoid to Lower Your Risk of Having a Heart Attack

Dr. Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone and American Heart Association Go Red for Women volunteer expert, says that there’s one habit everyone should avoid if they want to lower their risk for a heart attack: smoking or vaping. “If you smoke, stop! Every cigarette you do not smoke lowers your risk of heart attack,” she says.

Dr. Pontone agrees. “If there’s one habit to stop or avoid to significantly lower the risk of a heart attack, it is smoking,” he says. “Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and can damage blood vessels, raise blood pressure and contribute to the formation of arterial plaques. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke not only hasten the progression of atherosclerosis but also increase the likelihood of blood clot formation, significantly elevating the risk of a heart attack.”

Related: 25 Foods That Are Good for Your Heart, From Fruits and Veggies to Heart-Healthy Nuts and Seeds

If you don’t smoke or vape, both doctors say that the most important habit to avoid if you want to lower your risk of a heart attack is eating ultra-processed foods regularly. “Unhealthy foods raise cholesterol and blood pressure, and promote weight gain and diabetes,” Dr. Reynolds says. Instead, Dr. Pontone says to eat a diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.

Additionally, both doctors say it’s also important to manage stress and to exercise regularly. “The target is at least 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or climbing stairs, but every little bit counts. If you don’t exercise now, adding just five minutes a day can lower your risk,” Dr. Reynolds says. If you struggle to find time to exercise, she recommends what she calls “exercise snacks,” which are just one or two minutes of exercise. “When you feel like you need something to get you through the day, a minute or two of exercise can help clear your head, and it won’t make you crash or gain weight like candy will,” she says, adding that exercise relieves stress too.

Remember, heart attacks are largely preventable. “Lowering the risk of a heart attack involves a multidimensional approach, that includes adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and the cessation of harmful habits such as smoking,” Dr. Pontone says. “Regular medical check-ups, exercise and a healthy diet are crucial elements of a comprehensive heart health strategy.”

By putting all of this into practice, you’ll not only be significantly lowering your risk of having a heart attack but will benefit your entire body. It just might save your life.

Next up, find out what doctors say about how to improve heart health quickly.

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