In addition to exercising regularly and eating a low-fat, low sodium diet, you may want to consider these strategies to lower your chances of a heart attack: drink alcohol only in moderation, reduce stress, and get an annual flu shot.

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Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Studies show that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol—one or two drinks a day—are at reduced risk for a heart attack. This is probably because moderate drinking increases HDL cholesterol levels by about 10 percent, decreases constriction of the coronary arteries, and reduces the risk of blood clots. Moderate drinking is also associated with modestly lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.

Because heavy drinking can damage the heart and liver and cause accidents and hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes, and as little as one to two drinks a day may increase the risk of breast cancer in women, the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking alcohol for heart attack prevention. In fact, controlling other risk factors for a heart attack will have a greater impact than moderate alcohol consumption.

So if you already drink, do so moderately—a drink or two per day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. (One drink is equal to 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits.) If you are a teetotaler, you should not start drinking to reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Reduce Stress

Stress can cause you to overeat, smoke, drink too much alcohol, be physically inactive, or not take your medication—all of which can have negative effects on the health of your heart. It may also cause changes in your body that make you more susceptible to a heart attack. For example, when you are in a stressful situation, your body releases hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which temporarily cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise.

You can cope with stress in a variety of ways. Regular aerobic exercise, such as a daily walk, and a supportive network of family and friends are helpful for many people. You may also want to try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or transcendental meditation. Some individuals benefit from behavior modification techniques such as biofeedback.

Get a Flu Shot

People who get an annual flu shot have half the risk of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease. The best time to get a flu shot is between September and the end of November, which should protect you for the entire flu season.

Publication Review By: Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D. and Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 10 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 15 Jan 2015