9 tips to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke
Posted on 15 September 2015
There are many ways to lower your risk of having what could be a deadly heart attack or stroke. Here are the top nine easy-to-follow tips from experts…
‘Generally speaking, based on the usual causes of strokes and heart attacks, the answers lie in adjustment to lifestyle,’ says Dr Aine Mugabi, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. ‘Your diet must be appropriate, you must not gain excessive weight, you must exercise regularly, and you must report for a medical assessment every so often,’ he says. This means that everybody should:
1. Monitor their diet
Fill your menu with heart-healthy food and go easy on the artery-clogging fats. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 found that women who ate fish at least once a week were one third less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who ate fish only once a month.
Lack of exercise is a huge contributing factor to obesity, so get your body moving – even if it’s just walking a few kilometres a day. A fitness tracker can help you keep track of the distance you cover in a day – and that’s a good start to regular exercise.
3. Go for regular checkups
When’s the last time you had your blood pressure checked? And what were your numbers? If you don’t know the answer, get your BP checked as part of a regular checkup at your doctor or closest clinic (or donate blood and they will check it for free).
4. Take your meds
If you are already on medication for blood pressure or hypertension, make sure that 1) you don’t run out of tablets, and 2) you actually take those tablets. It sounds obvious, but if we had 50 cents for every Mediclinic patient who, against their better judgement, skipped taking their meds every once in a while… well, we’d have a lot of 50 cents in our jar!
5. Monitor your cholesterol
This is where things get complicated. High blood lipids (fats) are a known cause of cardiovascular disease. Blood includes LDL cholesterol (that’s bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides. Your goal is to lower your LDL and boost your HDL. Speak to your GP and/or a Mediclinic dietician about ways to achieve this.
6. Reduce stress
Sure, it’s easier said than done. But the science is pretty clear on this: stress is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease – and in severe cases it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Lower your stress levels by getting enough exercise, enough sleep and enough ‘down time’. How much is ‘enough’ for you? Ask your doctor.
7. Don’t smoke
Those warning labels on your pack of 20 aren’t lying: smoking cigarettes can cause heart disease, lung disease, stroke… and death. Kick the habit before the habit kicks you in the teeth.
8. Know your risks
Do you have a history of heart disease in your family tree? If your parents, grandparents or other relatives had – or died from – heart disease or stroke, your own risk is very high.
9. Focus on prevention
It’s a billion times better than cure. ‘The risk factors for heart attacks and strokes are hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol,’ Dr Mugabi warns. ‘And when we talk about prevention, we mean aggressive management of those risk factors.’