It’s been drummed into our heads that keeping cholesterol in check is the best way to avert a heart attack. But taming the so-called bad cholesterol — the artery-clogging LDLs (low-density lipoprotein) that can form deadly plaques — is only one piece of the prevention picture. A whopping 80 percent of heart attacks can be averted by simple lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking can cut your risk in half. And a heart-healthy diet, along with exercise and keeping weight down, also plays a big role.
- Know your cholesterol counts. A simple blood test will show the numbers. Ideally, LDL (known as “bad” cholesterol) should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter; HDL (known as “good” cholesterol) ferries excess fat out of the arteries and should be above 50. Triglycerides — the fatty acid in blood — should be under 150.
- Watch your weight. Calculate your body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight and height that shouldn’t be 25 or higher. Even being moderately overweight — a BMI from 25 to 28.9 — nearly doubles the risk of heart disease.
- Exercise moderately at least 30 minutes a day. Try brisk walking, hiking, gardening, even vacuuming — anything that gets the heart pumping faster. Exercise lowers cholesterol, prevents deadly plaque from building up inside blood vessels, and keeps the heart muscle strong.
- Eat heart-healthy foods. Low-fat diets are the best, but the kind of fat you eat is what matters most. Cut out saturated and trans fats, which are found in most fried fast foods and some commercial baked goods. Substitute with unsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, and canola oils) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil). Stick to a Mediterranean-style diet of fruits, vegetables, poultry, shellfish, and cold-water fish (salmon), and cut down on red meat. Switch to nonfat dairy foods, and eat plenty of fiber, whole grains, beans, and nuts.