A “roadmap of strategies” for heart health have been outlined in recent guidance from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA).
Adopting a heart-healthy eating plan, getting more exercise, avoiding tobacco and managing known risk factors are among the key recommendations made in 2019 Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.
“The most important way to prevent cardiovascular disease, whether it’s a build-up of plaque in the arteries, heart attack, stroke, heart failure or issues with how the heart contracts and pumps blood to the rest of the body, is by adopting heart healthy habits and to do so over one’s lifetime,” observes Roger Blumenthal, MD, co-chair of the guideline committee, and the Kenneth Jay Pollin Professor of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“More than 80 percent of all cardiovascular events are preventable through lifestyle changes, yet we often fall short in terms of implementing these strategies and controlling other risk factors.”
The guideline describes healthy lifestyle changes as the “cornerstone of preventing heart disease” and offers practical advice based on the latest research.
“We can all do better with our dietary and exercise habits,” notes Blumenthal, “and that’s so important when we think about wanting to live longer and healthier lives, whether it’s to see our grandchildren grow up or to stay as active as possible in older age.”
Top tips and advice
Eating more vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, and fish, are at the top of the list of recommendations, as is limiting salt, saturated fats, fried foods, processed meats and sweetened drinks.
It also advises at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing or cycling, each week.
“For people who are inactive, some activity is better than none and small 10-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can add up for those with hectic schedules.
“Currently, only half of American adults are getting enough exercise and prolonged periods of sitting can counteract the benefits of exercise,” say the authors.
Offer tailored support
One in three heart disease deaths are caused by smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, so the guideline also advocates mitigating this risk.
“Every effort to try to quit through counseling and/or approved cessation medications should be supported and tailored to each individual,” adds the document.
The guideline also warns against the routine use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke in healthy people.
“Clinicians should be very selective in prescribing aspirin for people without known cardiovascular disease,” Blumenthal adds.
“It’s much more important to optimize lifestyle habits and control blood pressure and cholesterol as opposed to recommending aspirin. Aspirin should be limited to people at the highest risk of cardiovascular disease and a very low risk of bleeding.”