You CAN Prevent a Heart Attack – A Cardiologist Tells You How
Someone has a heart attack every 39 seconds in the US.
Several years ago, one of those heart attacks changed my life.
Early in my career as a cardiologist, I received a call from the emergency room that a 52-year-old man had arrived with a heart attack. I talked with him briefly as he was rushed to the cath lab by the interventional team to try to urgently open the blocked artery that was causing his heart attack. Unfortunately, it was clear he had been so busy taking care of his business and his family that he hadn’t been taking care of his health – but the good news was he was in the right place, getting world-class care. And usually, lives are saved.
But not this time.
Despite a talented and experienced team working for 3 hours – this man had too much damage, and they couldn’t fix him.
Unfortunately, this happens much too frequently. The first sign of heart disease at least 25% of the time and up to 50% is death.
Having to tell his family – his wife, three children, and his mother – that he didn’t make it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Seeing the pain and anguish of losing a husband, father, and son several decades too early was something I will never forget.
And the reason it changed my life is that I knew this devastating loss was almost certainly preventable.
There are about 800,000 heart attacks every year in the US and 650,000 people a year die from heart disease – still the leading cause of death – and things are getting worse.
Heart disease has increased about 50% in the last three decades – despite knowing what prevents up to 80% of heart attacks.
Seeing up close and personal the devastating effects of heart disease on our health and lives is why helping people prevent this loss has become my purpose.
The Healthspan 10
Research has shown that people can lower their risk by as much as 80% by taking ten simple preventive measures.
Yes, I said 80% – shocking, right? And these measures don’t just lower the risk for heart disease. Those who take these ten steps cut their risk of stroke in half, reduce their risk of cancer by 1/3, and give themselves the best chance of avoiding dementia – while adding 12-14 years of life on average.
So, what are these 10 “magic” factors? You would be right to be skeptical of such wondrous claims. We’ve all heard about the “miracle cures” that are anything but miracles, but these ten factors aren’t a scam, and they won’t cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The ten simple measures that can save your life – or the life of someone you love:
1.Be physically active.
Being active is the fountain of youth – no other factor has more power to impact your life’s length – and quality.
A critical point that many don’t realize is that being active with a goal of longevity does not just mean aerobic activity. The passing years – and a world that encourages sitting – are hard on our bodies. We lose muscle mass and flexibility – and one of the most significant risks to losing independence is becoming frail or injured – which makes strength training and stability/core training crucial to living a long and vital life.
2.Eat a healthy diet.
Eating healthy is the most complex factor because there is so much misinformation out there about nutrition. So here are the crucial points to know 1) There is no one best diet for everyone – and 2) – there is a 4-part framework for finding YOUR best diet:
1. Determine what NOT to eat – learn the foods that are crippling your metabolism
2. Determine what to eat – what are the foods that are best for your physiology and tastes
3. Determine how much to eat – the usual way is calorie restriction – or maybe meal replacements – which rarely lead to lasting results
4. Determine when to eat – the timing of eating is often ignored but can be critically important for some.
This is the framework for building YOUR nutrition system. Answer these four questions – and you’ll never be confused about what to eat again.
Yes, we all know about the health dangers of tobacco and excess alcohol. But other toxins can be as important, such as highly processed foods, some prescription medications, social media, watching the news, our screen time, the list goes on and on and – again – will be unique to you.
4.Get restorative sleep
Restorative sleep is essential to living a long and vital life. Unfortunately, estimates are that half of us feel like we aren’t getting enough sleep – and I can tell you from my experience and the science – if you’re not sleeping, you will not heal your metabolism.
There’s a saying that you can sleep when you’re dead, but the reality, if you’re not getting restorative sleep – you may be dead sooner than you’d like.
Chronic stress is everywhere these days – we see it in increased rates of substance abuse, suicide, depression, and anxiety disorders – and just like with sleep deprivation – if you’re under chronic stress and not addressing it – you won’t heal your metabolism.
Connection isn’t often included when people talk about improving health and longevity, but research shows it can be as important as smoking and obesity. Unfortunately, being socially disconnected is on the rise. As much as 36% of people – and over 60% of young people – feel “serious loneliness.”
But when I talk about connection, I also mean a connection to your purpose – that you believe your life matters and you make a difference. Because what is the point of living a long life if it’s not fulfilling and purposeful?
7.Maintain a healthy weight.
Although Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25 Kg/m2 is used in research studies, BMI is not a great measure of unhealthy weight for many people. A much better measure for unhealthy weight is waist circumference, particularly if greater than 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman.
8.Keep blood pressure numbers in a healthy range.
· Less than 120/80 mm Hg is ideal.
9.Maintain healthy cholesterol numbers.
· The ideal cholesterol level depends on your risk for heart disease. The higher the risk, the lower the cholesterol goal.
10. Keep healthy blood sugar numbers.
· Fasting blood sugar less than 100 mg/dL. (Or hemoglobin A1c < 5.7%)
When I learned that 80% of heart attacks could be prevented, it changed my life and career. I became more passionate about helping people stay out of cath labs than what went on inside them.
My goal is to get this powerful information to everyone because we will all have artery disease (called atherosclerosis) if we live long enough – and more of us will die from it than anything else.
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you have heart disease or are concerned about your risk, it’s critical to know that YOU can decide your fate. You don’t have to be perfect – every additional health measure you add will significantly decrease your risk and improve the quality of your life.
We have the proof. Heart disease and stroke can be avoided. The power is in your hands.
Lead the best life,
- R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE