Heart disease claims the lives of about 1 million Americans every year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack. This year alone, 920,000 Americans will have a heart attack, and close to half of them will occur suddenly without any prior warning signs.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of your heart becomes blocked. This is often the result of plaque build-up inside your arteries (atherosclerosis), which may rupture and form a blood clot that blocks blood flow.
If the blockage isn’t cleared quickly, a portion of your heart muscle will begin to die and be replaced with scar tissue, which can cause severe problems in the future.
For instance, a previous heart attack (especially if a large area of your heart was damaged) is a risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest,which is caused by abnormal heart rhythms and can be fatal.
5 Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent 80 Percent of Heart Attacks
It’s remarkable that heart attacks are so common and cause so much pain (emotional and physical) and disability when they are nearly always preventable. You’re probably already aware that your lifestyle plays a role in your risk of heart disease (and heart attacks), but perhaps you’ve not yet taken it to heart…
If you need some motivation, consider a new study conducted at the Karolinska Institute. It found that engaging in five healthy lifestyle habits could prevent nearly 80 percent of first-time heart attacks in men. Even the researchers were surprised at how powerful a healthy lifestyle could be, noting:
“It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks… What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”
Still, this isn’t the first time such a drastic risk reduction has been uncovered. The 2004 INTERHEART study, which looked at heart disease risk factors in over 50 countries around the world, found that 90 percent of heart disease cases are completely preventable by modifying diet and lifestyle factors
Unfortunately, most people are not using lifestyle habits to their advantage. The featured study involved men aged 45 to 79… and only 1 percent of them engaged in all five of the “low-risk” behaviors that could prevent a heart attack. So what are the five healthy lifestyle habits?
- A healthy diet
- Being physically active (walking/bicycling ≥40 min/day and exercising ≥1 h/week)
- Healthy waist circumference (waist circumference <95 cm or 37.4 inches)
- Moderate alcohol consumption (10 to 30 g/day)
- No smoking
What Is a Healthy Diet for Your Heart?
Most of the heart-healthy lifestyle habits are self-explanatory, but the term “healthy diet” is ambiguous… and when it comes to heart health, it is probably not what you think. Contrary to popular belief, refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods are the real enemy—not the saturated fats found in foods such as butter, lard, or eggs.
Part of the confusion on fats revolves around its impact on LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. According to the conventional view, high LDL is correlated with heart disease, and saturated fat does tend to raise LDL. However, we now understand that there are TWO kinds of LDL cholesterol particles:
- Small, dense LDL cholesterol
- Large, “fluffy” LDL cholesterol
The latter is not “bad” at all. Research has confirmed that large LDL particles do not contribute to heart disease. The small, dense LDL particles, however, do contribute to the build-up of plaque in your arteries, and trans fat increases small, dense LDL. Saturated fat, on the other hand, increases large, fluffy—and benign—LDL.
More importantly, research has also shown that small, dense LDL particles are increased by eatingrefined sugar and carbohydrates, such as bread, bagels, and soda. Together, trans fats and refined carbs do far more harm than saturated fat ever possibly could.
A True Heart-Healthy Diet Plan
- Avoid sugar, processed fructose, and grains. This effectively means you must avoid most processed foods
- Eat a healthy diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
• Large amounts of vegetables
• Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein (think organically raised, -pastured animals)
• High-quality healthy fat (saturated and monounsaturated from animal and tropical oil sources). Most people actually need upward of 50-85 percent fats in their diet for optimal health—a far cry from the 10 percent currently recommended. Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include:
|Avocados||Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk||Raw dairy||Organic pastured egg yolks|
|Coconuts and coconut oil||Unheated organic nut oils||Raw nuts, such as almonds, pecans, macadamia, and seeds||Grass-fed meats|
Balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is also key for heart health, as these fatty acids help build the cells in your arteries that make the prostacyclin that keeps your blood flowing smoothly. Omega-3 deficiency can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor in up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. You can do this by avoiding most vegetable oils and increasing your intake of small wild-caught oily fish (sardines and anchovies) or taking a high-quality krill oil supplement.
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