Did you know that almost 1 million Americans suffer heart attacks every year? That figure is astounding enough, but what’s worse is that almost half of them have no prior warning signs or symptoms.

Heart attacks can strike out of the blue, but the cause is usually a result of long term poor lifestyle choices. There are five key lifestyle changes we could all do to make to reduce our risk of heart attack. First though, it’s important to understand exactly why heart attacks occurs.

heart attacksA heart attack happens when there is blockage preventing blood from flowing to heart. Blockages to the heart often occur as a result of a buildup of plaque in the arteries. If the blockage isn’t quickly cleared, blood is unable to properly flow throughout the body, and portions of the heart starved from blood begin to die. If this happens, the heart can become scarred, which can cause problems such as abnormal heart rhythms, which increases the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in the future.

80% of heart attacks could be prevented

In a study conducted by the Karolinska Institute, it was found that just five key healthy habits could prevent around 80% of first-time heart attacks. Other studies into heart health in over 50 countries also found that 90% of heart disease instances could have been prevented by improving key diet and lifestyle factors. So, what are these all important lifestyle habits which can dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack?

1. Eating a healthy diet

To best protect the heart, you need to avoid trans fats, which are commonly found in processed food, and keep sugar consumption to a minimum in order to avoid insulin resistance. The majority of your diet should be made up of vegetables, with high quality proteins (from unprocessed meats or plants). You don’t necessarily have to shy away from fats, as things like nuts, avocados and egg yolks contain high quality and healthy fats. Studies have also found that fruit can help to improve heart health, with one in particular claiming that those who ate fruit daily had a 40% reduced risk of heart disease.

2. Taking regular physical activity

Ideally, you should aim for around 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days each week – this could be as simple as a brisk walk or a cycling session. If this seems like a lot, just do a little day by day and build up the length or frequency at which you exercise until you reach a healthy routine.

3. Maintaining a healthy waist circumference

The mid section is one of the worst places to carry excess weight, as studies have found that those that have larger waists have an increased chance of cardiovascular death. Your waist circumference should be 95cm or less (37.4 inches) and it’s essential to maintain this size to keep the risk of heart attack at bay.

4. Keeping alcohol consumption to moderate levels

Some studies have found that those who drink alcohol in moderation (i.e. one drink per day for women and two for men) have a lower risk of heart disease than those who drink excessively or who do not drink at all. However, there is conflicting evidence around this, with some believing that it is other lifestyle factors which reduce the risk for moderate drinkers. What we do know is that too much alcohol is bad for the heart, and that excessive intake can lead to other health problems such as high blood pressure and stroke. So, keep alcohol consumption to a moderate level to stay healthy.

5. Not smoking

Smoking causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries, making it a major contributing factor for heart attack. It’s also one the leading causes of cancer and has a whole host of other negative impacts on our health, from gum disease to anxiety. It’s not surprising then than non-smokers have a reduced risk of heart attack or disease than smokers. If you’re currently a smoker, quitting cannot come soon enough if you want to minimize your heart attack risk.

As with all health issues, see your physician to maximize your opportunity in maintaining your own best health.