It’s easy to feel invincible when we’re young, but as we get older, we begin thinking more critically about the ways our everyday decisions will impact our health in the future ― especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Or, more specifically, heart attacks. This article will help you identify five lifestyle changes you can make now to help prevent heart attacks later. Your future self will thank you.
- Get enough sleep, but don’t overdo it: With only so many hours in a day, it’s easy to skimp on shut-eye. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to many health problems, including heart disease. “The body responds to inadequate sleep by increasing levels of stress hormones, which raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels, while lowering levels of good HDL-cholesterol,” says Dr. Benjamin J. Ansell, professor of medicine at UCLA. The National Institute of Health suggests that adults need 7 to 8 hours each night for optimal health and well-being.
- Start your workout in the right headspace: One way to strengthen and maintain a healthy heart is through regular exercise. However, it’s important your workout intentions are pure, and not just a way of “blowing off steam.” Findings from a 2016 study suggest that heavy physical exertion and emotional anger may be a potential trigger for a heart attack — particularly for those who’ve had a heart attack in the past.
The good news? There’s an easy solution. For optimal cardiovascular health, The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week to improve cardiovascular health, though of course you’ll want to begin your workout in the right headspace.” A gentle yoga or meditation warm-up session can also provide cardiovascular health benefits when considered as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with dark chocolate: Not everything you love is bad for you. In fact, dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, which are plant-based nutrients and powerful antioxidants that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables. Think of them as nature’s secret healthy weapon. Experts say flavonoids can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart and brain, and lower the risk of developing blood clots. Bear in mind that many chocolates are packed with processed sugars as well as artificial flavors and colors. Seek out a dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70 percent cocoa and limit your serving size to just one small square.
- Avoid late night meals: When it comes to dinner, the timing of your meal could be just as important to your heart health as the kinds of food that you’re eating. New research indicates that eating dinner within two hours of going to bed may increase overnight blood pressure, and thus the risk of a heart attack, particularly among people who already have high blood pressure. Though more studies are needed to confirm this observation, health experts agree that eating too close to hitting the sheets can cause indigestion and wreak havoc on your sleep.
- Be proactive between annual checkups: Of course, life is demanding, everybody knows and things happen. But, postponing your annual physical exam is something you should desist from. Annual check-ups are vital for everyone’s heart, whether you have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition or not.
“The most important thing for people to understand about heart disease is that most patients have no symptoms even when they are at substantial risk of a heart attack,” Ansell says. The good news? There are proactive measures you can take in-between your annual check-ups to keep your heart in tip-top shape, like talking to your doctor about starting an aspirin regimen and getting blood pressure checks at your local pharmacy. And don’t forget to talk to your doctor about your heart health risks at your next annual screening.