Someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds in the United States. And after you’ve had one heart attack, your risk for experiencing a second one is even higher.
Here’s what experts say are the best ways to reduce the chance of getting a heart attack in the first place, or prevent another one from occurring.
How to prevent a heart attack
High blood pressure and high cholesterol especially increase the risk of a heart attack. To prevent a heart attack, your doctor will likely recommend measures to lower blood pressure or lower cholesterol, depending on your situation.
Some of the most common lifestyle changes include:
- Quit smoking. “Cigarette smoking is probably public enemy number one,” says Joseph Alpert, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are twice as likely to get a heart attack over non-smokers. When one quits smoking, they can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 36%, according to one study of 20,721 healthy, Swedish men, ages 45 to 79, who were monitored over 11 years.
- Exercise regularly. According to that same study in over 20,000 Swedish men, regular exercise reduced the risk of heart attack by 3%. Aerobics are preferred, as they improve circulation and reduce blood pressure and heart rate, according to John Hopkins Medicine. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends adults get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming.
- Adopt a heart-healthy diet. Alpert says that eating lots of fruits and vegetables while decreasing salt intake can benefit heart health. The DASH Diet, for example, is known to lower blood pressure and help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Staying away from saturated and trans fats can also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart problems.
- Get more sleep. Adults who sleep less than seven hours a night are more prone to developing heart related illnesses like heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. And yet, one in three adults in the US say they don’t get enough sleep.
How to prevent a second heart attack after you’ve had one
According to the American Heart Association, about 20% of people who have their first heart attack will experience a second one within five years. But Alpert says there are ways to reduce that risk.
Along with the recommended lifestyle changes above, you’ll want to take any medication described by your doctor — especially if it’s to reduce high blood pressure or cholesterol. Getting to a healthy weight is also key; losing even 10% of your body weight is important for reducing the risk of a heart attack if you’ve already had one.
Cardiac rehab is also recommended for those who have had a heart attack. It’s a medically supervised program that gets people to exercise regularly, educates them on how to live a heart-healthy life, and includes counseling on how to reduce stress.
In fact, cardiac rehab can reduce the risk of a second heart attack by 47%, while also providing a strong support network to hold you accountable. If you’ve had a heart attack, ask your doctor about which cardiac rehab programs might be best for you.