Shield Your Heart: The Surprising Lifestyle Tweaks to Sidestep Heart Attacks

My philosophy of health is steeped in the concept of wellness: the day-to-day habits, activities and ways of life that help prevent pain, illness and disease from taking hold in the body. Maintaining these actions can be difficult because behaviors and emotions play a role in our choices. However, there are a number of potentially deadly diseases, like heart disease (and the accompanying heart attacks), that are triggered over time by our own behavior-led poor choices. In other words, many heart attacks and the onset of heart disease can be avoided and seriously reduced by simple, individual changes.

Heart Attack Symptoms

More than 1 million Americans suffer heart attacks annually. The buildup of plaque (inflammatory cells, calcium and protein) in the arteries, known as coronary artery disease, narrows the arteries. When this happens, not enough oxygen-rich blood can reach and nourish the heart. This causes myocardial infarction, or the death of heart tissue, due to a lack of blood to the heart. And when the plaque hardens, blood platelets form clots around the rupture. When a clot blocks an artery and starves the heart muscle of oxygen, the cells of the heart die. This damage is known as a heart attack.

While people generally associate chest pain with heart attack, this is not always the best indicator. In fact, often there is no pain in the chest during an attack. At other times, severe chest pain can be a sign of acid reflux and not related to the heart at all.

The most common signs and symptoms associated with heart attack include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest or arm or below the breastbone.
  • Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm.
  • Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn).
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness.
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
  • Discomforts that last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or nitroglycerin under the tongue.
  • Lack of obvious pain: a “silent” myocardial infarction; more common among people with diabetes.

Know Your Risk

Heart attacks are more common in those who are smokers, diabetics or overweight; have elevated blood pressure; and are under a fair amount of daily stress. These are all things that can be changed and are within our normal control. But there are some things that can cause and help prevent heart attacks that you may be unaware of.

The Problem with Energy/Sports Drinks

From 2007 to 2011, there was a steep rise in the number of emergency room visits as a result of so-called “energy” drinks, according to a government survey published in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics. The number of emergency visits nearly doubled during that time from 10, 068 to 20,783. How did this happen?

Well, to begin, there often are not enough controlled studies, or data to draw on, related to the ingredients in these drinks. Sports drinks often contain substances like caffeine, taurine, sugars and certain vitamins that boost energy or rev the metabolism and stimulate the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. This puts the body on high alert, into prolonged fight mode, with elevated blood pressure. This can cause bouts of insomnia, migraine headaches, body pains, seizures and heart issues, like irregular and rapid heartbeats. Heart attacks can a result from overconsumption of these drinks or from consuming them along with coffee or soda.

Drink More Water

There is a direct link between heart health and water consumption. Actually, the body needs water to survive and dehydration is one of the most common, yet most easily avoided, causes of body pain, muscle cramps, headaches and toxic buildup in the body. Studies show that drinking a glass of water before a bath can help lower blood pressure. And drinking a glass of water before bed can help decrease occurrence of stroke and heart attack in your sleep. Your body needs water to operate and move toxins, and the heart is a muscle that requires hydration.

Eat More Berries

Women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men; heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association recently reported on a study by Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia that found that women who consume three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries weekly can lower their risk of heart attack by up to 33 percent.

To study the power of berries, researchers did an analysis of health data derived from nearly 94,000 female nurses, ages 25 to 42. They were surveyed about their diets every four years over an 18-year period. Even after adjusting for age, high blood pressure, weight, exercise, smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption and family history of heart attack, the consumption of blueberries and strawberries held firm as a preventive measure against heart attack.

Berries contain anthocyanins, a group of dietary compounds known as flavanoids. These dilate (expand) arteries and reduce plaque buildup. This adds more room within the arteries and improves the flow of oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to the heart. Other foods that contain the same group of flavanoids include blackberries, grapes, wine, eggplant, sweet potatoes, radishes, cherries, onions, cabbage and apples.

Changing Habits

Heart disease and heart attacks are serious health concerns. If you smoke, have diabetes, suffer high blood pressure, are overweight and under stress, then you must take care to change your circumstances. Diet also plays a role. Eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables (especially berries). Drink more water. Avoid caffeine and sports drinks. Simple lifestyle changes can make the difference between life and death. There is no cure for heart disease, only prevention. Be proactive and make the changes necessary in your life to avoid succumbing to this deadly disease.