Our risk for heart attack increases as we grow older. A big factor is the change in cholesterol levels: ideally, the HDL or good cholesterol sweeps the LDL or bad cholesterol to our liver. But without HDL, the bad stuff builds up and causes a fatty substance called plaque—blocking arteries and leading to a heart attack. High blood pressure can also make the arteries themselves weak, while high blood sugar also causes plaque to stick more to the artery walls.
All this is happening in your body, often manifesting no symptoms until a heart attack ‘suddenly’ happens. Here’s what you can do to lower your risk.
Eat more omega-3 fatty acids.
You can get these from salmon and other oily, fatty fish. Eat at least twice a week and then talk to your doctor about taking DHA supplements (ideally 850 to 1000 milligrams) everyday.
Take a daily dose of aspirin
Talk to your doctor about whether you can take a low dose of aspirin every day. Studies show that aspirin can help prevent clots which lead to heart attack. However, aspirin does increase your risk for stomach bleeding and stroke, so your doctor must weigh these factors (and your overall health condition and family history) to see what’s best for you.
Know the risks of other supplements.
You may be taking mega-doses of antioxidants like Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and beta-carotene. While these have other health benefits, recent research shows they can increase risks especially for those with diabetes. Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Lower your saturated fat.
Limit saturated fat to just 10% of your daily diet; many doctors recommend keeping it at 7%. One big step is to use less cooking oil and avoiding any food that has high hydrogenated fats or trans fats.
Cut back on calories after menopause.
Since being overweight increases heart attack risk, cut 200 calories from your diet after menopause—when metabolism slows down. (Read our article on foods that boost metabolism.)
Increase physical activity
If you are completely sedentary, just 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise can cut your risk for heart attack in half. If you’re too busy to do a long workout, you can try short interval training (or short, high intensity exercises) twice a week, which will further reduce risk by 20%.
Get regular checkups
Get an annual physical exam and keep a record of your test results, particularly your cholesterol, blood sugar, fasting blood sugar and triglyceride levels. If you are at high risk for heart attack, consider getting a test for your lipoprotein subfraction which measures the size of your cholesterol particles. Doctors also recommend that people get a baseline heart scan to measure coronary artery calcium.
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