Five Ways to Reduce Heart Attack Risk by 80 Percent

If you could do five things to reduce your heart-attack risk by 80 percent, would you take a step to start on this path?

That's a challenge posed by Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center and professor of medicine, UArizona College of Medicine - Tucson. She cites a study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, which observed 20,721 healthy Swedish men, ages 45 to 79, for 11 years. The study, published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology, noted that men could reduce their heart attack risk by 80 percent if they made five lifestyle changes. “I believe these also apply to women and Americans,” said Dr. Sweitzer.

Here's how these changes stack up:

  • 36 percent risk reduction attributed to not smoking.
  • 18 percent reduction for eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish.
  • 12 percent reduction for maintaining a waistline of 37 inches or less (for men). (For women, this waistline circumference would be about 35 inches or less, said Dr. Sweitzer.)
  • 11 percent reduction for drinking fewer than two alcoholic drinks per day. (Probably one drink per day for women.)
  • 3 percent reduction for moderate daily and weekly exercise routines.
  • 1 percent – the percentage of study participants who exhibited all five of the healthy habits.

Why don’t more people follow all five of these lifestyle choices? “It can be overwhelming if people feel they need to make all of these changes at once,” said Dr. Sweitzer. “Everyone could look at where they can make the biggest impact on their risk reduction and start with one small change.” The biggest potential impact, if you smoke, stop!

What could we save if more of us make these lifestyle choices?

  • 655,000 – The number of Americans who died from heart disease during 2019. That’s 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.
  • 365,000 – the number of people who die from coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease; it is caused by a blockage in the coronary artery.
  • 805,000 – the number of heart attacks each year in America.
  • $219 billion – the costs of coronary artery disease alone, including health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Take the Heart Series Risk Assessment to learn your risk of having a heart attack during the next 10 years. 

For more health information, please visit our  Heart Health page.

For physician appointment information, please call 520-MyHeart (694-3278).

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