Ask A Pharmacist

Small Lifestyle Changes That Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack

Our Customers Asked…

I want to increase my heart health and reduce my risk for a heart attack, but I don’t want to drastically change my lifestyle. Are there any small changes I can make that will actually make an impact.

Our Experts Answered…

Anyone at risk of a heart attack surely knows the best way to reduce that risk is with a well-devised diet and exercise plan, but that’s just not realistic for some people. Taking on a new lifestyle can sound daunting, and it certainly can be a major time-commitment as well as a test of willpower. For those who aren’t ready to make that jump yet, there are still many small things you can do that can add up to make a big difference. Try fitting some of the following into your daily routine to reduce your risk of a heart attack without overhauling your entire life!

“There are many small things you can do that can add up to make a big difference.”

• Track Your Steps: Can’t get to the gym? No problem! Walking may not seem like exercise in the traditional sense, but it can have a major impact on your cardiovascular health, and you don’t have to set aside extra time in your day to fit it in. While walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week is a great plan to strive for, setting a daily step goal can be just as effective. 10,000 steps is universally regarded as the benchmark for an “active” day, and most of our customers find that once they start tracking their steps, it isn’t so hard to reach that mark! Squeezing in just a couple extra steps at various points of the day, like parking a few spots further than you normally would, or walking those few blocks you usually take a cab, can make a huge difference for your heart. Did you know that most mobile phones already track your daily step-count? Even if yours doesn’t, there are many devices available (like the FitBit or a small standalone pedometer) that can track steps too. Once you start tracking your steps, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to reach your daily goal with just a few minor changes!

• Medication Compliance: This may seem obvious, but taking measures to ensure you are adherent to your medications is extremely important! The American Heart Association estimates that poor compliance results in ~125,000 deaths in the US every year, as well as ~$300 billion in additional health care costs (like hospitalizations and doctor visits). There are many reasons for noncompliance, including cost, fear of side-effects, not being convinced of a medication’s effectiveness, and of course, just forgetting to take meds. However, these are all concerns/issues that are easily remedied by talking to your pharmacist. If you are unsure how a medication is helping you, ask your pharmacist to explain how it’s working (even when you can’t feel it). If you’re feeling hesitant about potential side effects, talk to your pharmacist about how to reduce your chances of feeling them. If a medication is too expensive, let your pharmacist know so we can work with your doctor to find something more affordable but equally effective. Most importantly, if forgetting to take medications is an issue, let your pharmacist help you devise a strategy to make sure that doesn’t happen! There are many helpful tips that can ensure you are getting the medication your heart needs on a consistent basis.

• Reduce Salt Intake: You like food. We get it. We do too, and we know how hard it can be to change your diet after years of eating what you love. Maybe putting yourself on a “diet” is a little too much of a change, but what about making one small switch? That could be more manageable. Making the decision to reduce your salt intake (even if you keep all else in your diet the same) can have quite the impact on your heart. Try to start with baby steps by removing the salt shaker from your kitchen or dining room table where you eat your meals. Make a rule for yourself that you will never add extra salt to food in a restaurant. As a rule of thumb, opt for fresh foods over processed foods (which are crammed with salt to preserve shelf life) anywhere you can. As you become more comfortable with these changes, you can move on to reading nutrition labels and counting your sodium intake. The American Heart Association recommends a goal of no more than 1500mg of sodium per day for a healthy life.