AARP Eye Center
| It’s easy to spot a heart-health fanatic. She’s the one jogging down the side of the road, wearing tight pants and a heart monitor, then slipping into House of Kale for a superfood infusion. But you don’t need to be the neighborhood greyhound or a health food zealot to dramatically slash your risk of heart attack and stroke. You just need to stop making a few common blunders that elevate your risk of heart disease, says Clyde W. Yancy, chief of cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. The sooner you make a change, the faster you can reverse existing damage or reduce your risk.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
That’s why AARP and the American Heart Association (AHA) are working together to give you simple fixes you can do today to start lowering your risk — dramatically. During February — aka American Heart Month — and all year round, avoid committing these blunders. You’ll set yourself, and your heart, on a healthy new path.
1. You sneak a smoke
Heavy smokers know they should quit. So should occasional smokers. But you might say, “I only bum a smoke socially” or “Just once in a while, I have a cigar on the golf course” or “I switched to vaping. It’s so much cleaner and healthier.”
Wrong answers, one and all. “Cigarettes, cigars, vaping — all of them have the same degree of risk” for your heart, Yancy says. Nicotine has been shown to tighten coronary arteries; the effect is virtually immediate, he notes. “And there is no ‘small dose’ of nicotine,” he adds. “There is no threshold below which you’re ‘OK’ with smoking. That doesn’t exist.”
If you stop smoking right now and you don’t already have coronary artery disease, within two years you can reduce your heart attack risk to what it would have been if you had never smoked.
2. You skip your walk
Muscle loss as you age is a serious problem, and your heart is the most important muscle of all, says sports medicine physician Jordan D. Metzl, author of The Exercise Cure.
The AHA recommends 150 minutes a week of exercise, or 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. A 2017 study showed that people with stable coronary heart disease who increased their habitual physical activity reduced their mortality rate. The greatest benefits were seen in the most sedentary people who finally started moving regularly.