Cardiologists and health care providers agree that there are things within our control and things outside of our control when it comes to reducing the risk of having a heart attack. These modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors give us our own individual risk for having a heart attack. While some of us may work really hard to control modifiable risk factors like hypertension, none of us are able to control getting older, for example. Together with our health care team, we work to change what we can, reduce our risk and stay on top of any changes to help prevent a cardiovascular event. But what if we knew a secret formula to focus on those things that have the biggest impact on our risk? Researchers say they have identified five things men in particular can do to prevent four out of every five heart attacks. For the 715,000 Americans who have a heart attack each year, 525,000 will have their first heart attack. Could this new research help cut that number by more than 80 percent?
The findings of the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, pinpoint the behaviors of more than 20,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79, which clearly identify the lifestyle habits responsible for reducing heart attack risk. The 11-year long study determined these are the guidelines to follow:
Walk or ride a bike for more than 40 minutes per day, plus exercise for more than an hour a week.
Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, reduced-fat dairy products, and fish.
Drink an ounce or less of alcohol per day.
Do not smoke.
Maintain a waist circumference of less than 37 inches.
Individually, these may all sound like achievable steps to take for better heart health. However, only one percent of the men studied adhered to all five. Those who did had an 86 percent reduced risk of having a heart attack. “It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks,” Agneta Akesson, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, said in a press release. “What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”
Health care providers still face the challenge of immediate reward versus delayed gratification. We are less likely to give up some of our favorite comfort foods for a salad every day, for example, if we don’t see the immediate impact on our health. Delayed gratification over the long-run, however, can produce a reward many of us would gladly accept, we just need to remind ourselves on a daily basis that it all adds up – for better or for worse.