Health Fusion: 6 ways to cut your risk of heart attack and stroke. But take baby steps!

Most of us know that to maintain a healthy heart, we need to eat right, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. It all sounds so simple. But for whatever reason, lifestyle choices are very difficult to change. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started dieting and exercise routines only to give up a few weeks later. Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist with the Mayo Clinic, says change is difficult because, as they say, we are creatures of habit.

“There is a lot of scientific evidence about change, and most of us feel that today we have to do it all or not at all,” says Kopecky. “That is exactly wrong. We don’t have to change quickly, and we also can’t change quickly because we are human. We have habits.”

Kopecky says the way to make a permanent lifestyle change is to slowly incorporate it into your daily life. Instead of revising your entire eating plan all at once, replace some of those fries on your plate with veggies. Or grab a piece of fruit instead of a cookie. When it comes to exercise, you can relax with an evening stroll. Start slowly and build from there.

To some people, even starting up slowly sounds too much of a chore. But Kopecky has an incentive that could help you embrace this positive change.

“If you change the right lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by about 85 to 90% over time,” says Kopecky.

OK! That’s enough to make me get up off the couch and move. Here are the changes he says to make you healthier and improve your quality of life. And remember, start with baby steps.

Six steps to better health:

  • No. 1: Food: Kopecky recommends eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, lean meats (fish like salmon), and healthy fats like olive oil. He suggests limiting alcohol, sugary foods, sugary drinks, salt, and processed foods.

“What we eat is important, but there are other things to consider when eating,” says Kopecky. “It’s about when you eat, how you cook, what you eat, who you eat with, what you do while you eat. It’s a whole bunch of things really. But if we take it one step at a time, we can certainly change it. “

  • # 2: Physical activity: Just move more. Dr. Kopecky says any move is better than none, but the more you do, the better. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting.
  • No. 3: Get enough sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website states that adults should get seven hours of sleep a night.
  • Number 4: Stress. Take steps to reduce it. Deep breathing, yoga and Mindfulness-based stress reduction are examples of practices that can help reduce stress.

“The two things that people forget because they are so ubiquitous and everyone has them are poor sleep and stress,” says Kopecky. “People might brag that they can take three or four hours of sleep a night. Or they might think they can just take stress. But that’s not good.”

He adds that both poor sleep and uncontrolled stress are linked to an increased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.

  • No. 5: Body weight. Maintain a weight that’s right for you.
  • No. 6: Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit.

You may be wondering where your genes come into play in all of this.


“Most genes increase your risk by 30 or 40%,” says Kopecky. “But if you have a bad lifestyle, it increases your risk by 300 to 400%. So if you change your lifestyle, you can actually change the way your body reacts to your genes. “

You can’t change your genes or family history. And sometimes heart attacks and strokes happen no matter what you do. But positive lifestyle habits are well worth it as they not only help improve cardiovascular health, but also improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and host of Health Fusion. She can be reached at

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