Guard your heart: How to prevent, survive and recover from a heart attack

June 22, 2018 Providence Health Team

Being overweight increases your risk of heart attack.

Chewing aspirin may help prevent heart attack-causing blood clots from growing larger.

Physical exercise following a heart attack helps your heart in many ways.

Your body has different systems that are responsible for different jobs, but they all share the common goal of keeping you alive. Your heart is at the center of all this activity. It is responsible for setting the pace and regulating the rest of your body, so it’s important to keep it healthy. When your body’s systems aren’t healthy, it can affect your heart and put you at risk for heart attack.

In fact, almost all heart attacks are the result of one or more of the following:

  • Smoking
  • Abnormal cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Consuming too few fruits and vegetables
  • Abstaining from alcohol

The good news is research suggests as many as 90 percent of all heart attacks are avoidable.

How to protect your heart from a heart attack
Nearly 70 percent of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese. If you’re struggling with extra weight, particularly around your midsection, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet are just a few ways to protect your heart. Here are a few more things you can do to start living a heart-healthy lifestyle:

Stop smoking
Smoking increases your risk of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, and it thickens your blood, which puts you at risk for blood clots (a leading cause of heart attacks).

Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet is one of the best ways you can prevent cardiovascular disease. Avoiding sugar and filling your plate with whole grains, leafy green vegetables, fruits and lean meats can help lower heart attack risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Lower your cholesterol
Excess cholesterol in your blood builds up on the walls of your arteries and can lead to atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. Atherosclerosis causes your arteries to narrow, which constricts blood flow—and therefore oxygen—to your heart.

Lower your high blood pressure
High blood pressure can cause blood clots in the arteries that lead to your brain, constricting blood flow and therefore increasing your risk of heart attack.

Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. Try to work your way up to 40 minutes of vigorous exercise three to four times per week.

Limit alcohol intake
While moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (<2 drinks per day for men and <1 drink per day for women) may have health benefits, excessive drinking can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

How to survive a heart attack, especially if you’re alone
It is important to know the common warning signs of a heart attack.

It is also important to know what to do in case of a heart attack, especially for those who have an increased risk. Here are three simple steps that could save your life:

Stop whatever you’re doing and find a safe place to rest.

Call 9-1-1

Dial your local emergency number for urgent medical help. If you’re suffering a heart attack, you will need specialized medical care to prevent long-term heart damage.

Take an aspirin
Many heart attacks are caused by blood clots. Taking 325 mg of aspirin (only if you are NOT allergic) during a heart attack may help prevent the clot from getting bigger, giving your body a chance to break it down. This is roughly equivalent to one adult-strength aspirin tablet or two to four low-dose tablets. Many health professionals suggest chewing the aspirin so it gets into your bloodstream more quickly.

Why exercise may increase your survival rate after a heart attack
Following a heart attack, your doctor will typically advocate certain lifestyle changes, like: quit smoking, eat a healthy diet and limit alcohol and sugars. Research continues to support the inclusion of "get regular physical exercise" to their list. Once your doctor gives you the all clear, exercising at least two times per week can help strengthen your heart muscle. While any form of exercise that increases your heart rate is beneficial, heart-healthy aerobic exercises like these are highly recommended:

  • Walking briskly
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Dancing
  • Skiing

Your heart is responsible for delivering nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to every single one of the 30 to 40 trillion cells in your body. Keeping your heart in good shape increases the blood flow to and through it and could help it heal after heart attack.

For more information about how you can maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, please visit the nutrition and fitness sections of our blog, and subscribe so you’ll never miss a health update.

OR: Providence Heart & Vascular Institute, Providence Diabetes and Health Education Center

Alaska: Providence Heart & Vascular Center

California: Providence Saint John’s Health Center,  Little Company of Mary Medical Center TorranceProvidence Saint Joseph Medical CenterSt. Joseph Hospital Heart and Vascular Center; St. Jude Medical Center; Mission Hospital Heart Institute; St. Mary Medical Center - Heart and Vascular Center

Washington: Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Providence St. Peter Regional Heart Center; Spokane Heart InstituteSwedish Heart & Vascular Institute

Montana: International Heart Institute

Kadlec: Kadlec Regional Medical Center


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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