There’s a Simple Way to Cut Your Heart Attack Risk in Half

A doctor listens to an athlete's heart, gauging for possible heart attack signs

A doctor listens to an athlete’s heart, gauging for possible heart attack signs | David Savill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

These days, most of us don’t worry about starving to death or being killed by wild animals. Instead, the most tangible threats to our lives are fairly innocuous. Chronic diseases, even preventable ones, are what kill the majority of Americans. It may be cancer, possibly due to smoking or drinking, that does us in. Or heart disease, spurred by a poor diet and little exercise. For many people, it all leads to a fatal stroke or heart attack.

Heart attacks and strokes are plenty frightening; they strike with little warning and can kill us instantly. Though there are signs we tend to overlook in favor of an unaltered lifestyle, there are many things you can do to prevent a heart attack. Often, the changes required are simply too much for some people.

With that said, we all know we should be taking better care of our bodies. That really comes down to a few basic things: eating well, getting enough exercise, and getting enough sleep. By keeping it relatively simple and focusing on these three main things, we can go a long way toward living longer, higher-quality lives. A new study all but confirms it. If you’re serious about warding off heart attacks, you merely have to do your due diligence.

Warding off a heart attack

close-up of a man clutching his chest to show a heart attack

Man clutching his chest to indicate a heart attack |

Following a healthy lifestyle entails a lot of things, and may not be as simple as it sounds. Still, a study led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and set for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine says a basic healthy lifestyle can override genetic factors to reduce heart issues.

“The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny,” Sekar Kathiresan, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and senior author of the study, said in a press release. “Many individuals — both physicians and members of the general public — have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case.”

The study looked at health data from more than 55,000 people from four other studies. Using this information, each individual was given a genetic risk score based on any hereditary variables that may have increased their risk for heart attack. “Within each genetic risk category, the presence of lifestyle factors significantly altered the risk of coronary events to such an extent that following a favorable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50% in those with the highest genetic risk scores,” the brief reads.

Due diligence for a healthy heart

doctor in a white coat holding a symbol to indicate heart health

Doctor holding a heart-shaped ball |

To reiterate, the study’s main takeaway is heart attacks are largely preventable, even if you have some variables outside of your immediate control. Despite the fact you’ve been dealt a bad genetic hand, you can still make choices to lead a healthier life.

While the choices you’re presented with on a daily basis are simple, it’s not always easy in practice. We know we shouldn’t dump sugar in our coffee, for example, or skip a gym session to go to happy hour. Be we do. It’s only human. These things are going to happen, but what we should aim for is an overall healthy lifestyle. If you skip the gym here and there, or eat something you know isn’t the best for you? You’ll probably survive.

That goes back to a few main things: eating a (mostly) healthy diet, getting enough quality sleep, and exercising when you can.

So, set yourself a reasonable bedtime — don’t stay up all night playing Call of Duty. Make it a habit of eating something other than muffins or Pop Tarts for breakfast. And that gym membership you pay for? Actually go two or three times a week. You’ll definitely feel better after a few weeks.

It’s by establishing healthy habits that you can largely automate these processes. For some people, this means an overhaul of our lifestyles. For others, it’s minor tweaking. But if you’re willing to make the changes, it can make a big difference.