Whether everyone in your family tree died of a heart attack at 50 or remained hale until 100, you need to think about your ticker, says Martha Grogan, a doctor and medical editor of the new book “Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life!” ($26, Time). Here are a few pointers she has:
_Know the symptoms. Sure, unexpected chest pain, severe weakness and shortness of breath could be something other than a heart attack. But you’d better let a doctor be the judge of that. “People say they feel so silly, and it might just be heartburn,” Grogan says, noting that women especially “don’t want to bother anybody.”
The book features first-person accounts from several heart attack survivors, and a common theme is that they had to be persuaded to go to the hospital.
That’s why it’s also critical to be aware of symptoms in others, Grogan adds. You might need to be the one doing the persuading or the CPR. Not up on your technique? Grogan says to stick with just chest compressions and to skip the mouth-to-mouth portion.
_Get up. Everyone knows exercise is good for the heart, but you may not know how little you can do and still see a benefit. Just standing helps, says Grogan, who nevertheless recommends doing a bit more once you’re on your feet. “I’d challenge people to walk briskly in front of the TV and do jumping jacks,” she says.
If you’re at the gym every morning, Grogan says that’s great. Try to weave some of that activity throughout your day, however, because even regular exercisers have a higher risk of heart disease if they sit the rest of the day.
_Hit the sack. Fun fact about sleep: You can never get more than you need. So don’t worry about overdoing it. And you’ll rest easier knowing that several studies have shown there’s a strong connection between heart disease and getting your z’s. “When we cheat on sleep, we pay for it,” Grogan says. “You eat a lot more when you’re tired, and you crave junk food and drink caffeine.” Plus, when you sleep, your heart rate drops.
_Chill out. Walking around angry puts you at a higher risk for a heart attack. Boost your mood by making time to participate in your favorite activities and volunteering. “People are always putting relaxation off,” Grogan says. But if you wait too long, you might not be around to relax.