If You Want to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk, Cardiologists Say You Should Do This One Thing Every Day

A cardiologist is holding up an item shaped as a heart

More than 800,000 people have a heart attack every year in the U.S. In reality, the true figure may be much higher because experts estimate that at least half of all heart attacks may be “silent,” meaning the person may have few, if any, noticeable symptoms and as a result may not seek medical treatment. All heart attacks—whether silent or not—can damage your heart and be potentially life-threatening, so obviously you want to do everything possible to avoid this serious medical event. 

While there’s no surefire way to guarantee you won’t ever have a heart attack, there are things you can do (and avoid doing) that will significantly decrease your risk.

Related: If You Want to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk, There's One Habit You Should Ditch ASAP

Biggest Risk Factors for a Heart Attack

There are several primary risk factors for a heart attack—and the good news is, most of them you can control or at least improve. 

Dr. Payal Kohli, MD, FACC,
Preventive Cardiologist and Founder and Medical Director at Cherry Creek Heart, lists the main modifiable/treatable risk factors:

  • Cholesterol. Dr. Kohli says you should understand your cholesterol numbers and risk associated with high LDL cholesterol. "It’s important to discuss treatment options with your doctor and consider options to lower your cholesterol if it is elevated."

  • Obesity. Dr. Kohli recommends maintaining a healthy weight, with a BMI of 20-25.

  • Diabetes/prediabetes. You should aim for an HbA1c of less than 5.6, Dr. Kohli says.

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure. Ideally, your blood pressure should be at or below 120/80, says Dr. Kohli.

  • Lifestyle habits. This includes things like smoking, diet, exercise, and drinking alcohol.

There are also some risk factors you can’t control. In addition to age and gender, these include:

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The One Daily Habit That Can Lower Your Risk of Having a Heart Attack, According to Cardiologists

One change you can make that can immediately improve your heart attack risk, according to Dr. Sandeep R. Singh, MD, MBAa cardiologist and medical advisor to Recovery Plus, is eating a healthy diet. This should include “lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins,” says Dr. Singh. “Adopting a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and refined sugars can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack.”

Dr. Kohli echoes that advice. “I recommend every plate have half fruits/vegetables/legumes, a quarter lean protein (fish, tofu) and a quarter a whole grain,” she says. “This food should have lots of colors (especially the vegetables), be made fresh, be minimally processed and low in sodium. With this ‘recipe’ for healthy eating, we can try to incorporate the DASH and/or Mediterranean diets, which are both considered ‘heart healthy’ into our lives.”

Other Changes You Can Make to Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk

In addition to improving your diet, there are some other changes you can make to your daily habits that can lower your risk of a heart attack.


Most people need to move more, says Dr. Singh, who recommends you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days, with a target of 150 minutes per week.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake

“It’s not just about what we do eat, it’s also about what we don’t eat/put inside our body, like toxins,” explains Dr. Kohli. “So, the heart-healthy recommendation would be no alcohol preferably, but if you choose to drink, then no more than one to two drinks a week would be ideal. I would also recommend avoiding smoking of any kind—this includes nicotine or marijuana. You can activate inflammation with vaping and smoking, and this can ultimately increase risk of heart attack or stroke.”

Learn to manage stress

Chronic stress can be bad for your heart. Dr. Singh suggests you “find things that help you chill, like deep breathing or hobbies.”

Get enough sleep

Getting sufficient rest can be good for you in many ways, including supporting heart health. “Seven to nine hours of sleep at night is a must for most adults,” says Dr. Kohli. “And we need good quality sleep, so we should avoid screens near bedtime after it's dark outside and try to have a routine, with good ‘sleep hygiene’ to wind down before bedtime and follow the same routine every day, synced with the darkness and sunlight. Also, if you snore, I recommend discussing screening for sleep apnea.”

Related: Is Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Normal? Here's What Sleep Doctors Say

Know your risk score

Knowing which high-risk factors you need to improve can help guide you to make positive changes. “According to the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization, 80% of heart attacks and strokes are preventable with adoption of a healthy lifestyle and treatment of risk factors, coined as ‘life’s essential 8’,” says Dr. Kohli. “Every individual should calculate their “Life’s Essential 8” score and get a personalized ‘lifestyle prescription’ for how to improve this score.” 

The good news is that making just a few relatively basic (yet very important) changes can dramatically improve your heart health and lower your risk of a heart attack. “Easy lifestyle changes incorporated into life, especially early on, can make a huge impact on the trajectory of heart disease,” says Dr. Kohli. “I like to say it is a train that is headed on a track. Statistically, given that heart disease is a leading healthcare crisis globally and, in the U.S., we know where the train is headed. However small changes in the trajectory of that train early in life can lead the train to a whole different destination. Know your numbers so you know (and can change) your risk!”

Next up, check out these 25 foods that are good for your heart.