Can heart attacks be virtually eliminated?

A recent editorial in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology stated that medical research “has revealed enough about the causes and prevention of heart attacks that they could be nearly eliminated.” Yet the reality is that 16 million Americans are living with coronary heart disease and half a million die from it each year. In fact, coronary heart disease is the number-one killer in our country and a major contributor to our health care crisis.

So why does our country’s number-one health problem, which is essentially preventable, continue to be so prevalent? It’s not because prevention doesn’t work—and not because it’s “too late” once heart disease or heart attacks have already occurred. The most likely culprits are our lifestyle choices and behaviors, as well as the current trend of treating the precursors and symptoms of heart disease aggressively, but overlooking the causes and failing to prescribe a path toward prevention.

It is clear to anyone familiar with medical literature that maintaining an appropriate diet and engaging in moderate physical activity on a daily basis can reverse or eliminate major cardiovascular risk factors. And when major cardiovascular risk factors are eliminated, the chances of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality are drastically reduced. In other words, it really is true that heart attacks can be virtually eliminated without the need for drugs, surgery or some new “miracle breakthrough.” It’s as simple as paying careful attention to our diet, physical activity, and our addictions and stress levels.

Heart Health Tips:

 • Use Food As Your Medicine

  • Eat whole, non-processed, food—mostly plants, and not too much
  • At least 5 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily, preferably 9
  • Avoid refined grains
  • Eat beans and nuts daily
  • Eat food sources containing omega-3 fatty acids daily:  wild-caught fish, flaxseed, and walnuts

• Use Exercise/Physical Activity As Your Medicine

  • Find an aerobic activity you enjoy and do it at least 5 days a week
  • Build strength and balance doing an activity you enjoy at least twice a week
  • Consider a mind/body exercise or activity like yoga or tai chi

• Get Adequate, Quality Sleep

  • Avoid late-afternoon/evening stimulants
  • Maintain a regular bedtime
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet place

• Reduce Daily Stress

  • Incorporate brief periods of downtime throughout the day
  • Prioritize 1 session of uninterrupted relaxation daily
  • Learn to respond to stress with positive versus negative thoughts


Kriston J. Kent, M.D., MPH is a Lifestyle/preventative medicine physician & facial plastic surgeon in private practice in Naples, Florida. He is the owner and medical director of The Kent Center for LIFE, and creator of Blue Zones.