What puts you at risk of a heart attack? There are lots of factors: an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, excessive drinking and genetics can all play a role and increase your risk.

For Jack FM morning radio host Drex, a combination of what he was eating, how little he was moving, and a family history contributed to his life-changing heart attack.

In Episode 12 of the Don’t Change Much Podcast with host Dan Murphy, Drex revisits his experience surviving a major heart attack and shares what he’s learned (hint: it includes prioritizing a healthy lifestyle). 

Before his heart attack, Drex was regularly eating nearly 2,000 calories worth of fast food on his way to work—and often layering on more high-fat and fried foods for lunch. 

On top of a not-so-healthy diet, he also wasn’t very active. “I’ve always been a somewhat sedentary guy. I like watching a lot of TV, movies, listening to music, and just sort of hanging out at my house.”

He knew he didn’t have the best lifestyle habits, but he thought he had plenty of time to change. 

“I’m eating dinner, watching some television news in my living room, and my chest started to feel like it was kind of burning across my pec muscles. I thought, ‘oh, maybe I just ate too fast.’ And then I felt like I needed to do a bowel movement, and then I felt like I needed to vomit,” Drex said. “My arms hurt all down my arms. My legs were kind of tingling… my fingers started to seize up, so I was kind of panicking a little bit.” 

He called a friend, who told him to call 911 immediately. “It was the kick in the pants I needed not to faff around and call for help straight away,” Drex said. “Because the problem with most men is they [say] ‘oh, I’ll be fine. Give it half an hour, I’ll be fine.’” It was a call that may have saved his life.

One way to better understand your risk is with Men’s Health Check.

You may be surprised to learn that 80% of premature heart attacks are preventable with healthy lifestyle choices. A balanced diet, exercising regularly, lowering stress, quitting smoking, and cutting back on alcohol can all play an important role in reducing your chances of developing heart disease. 

For Drex, making changes to his diet was the best first step. With that in mind, how can you eat a balanced diet and lower your heart attack risk?

Heart-healthy food tips

A self-proclaimed sedentary guy, one of the easiest things for Drex to adjust was food. “I like exploring new flavours and different things that I can eat. So if I can find things that are super healthy for me to eat, I’ll be able to devour them,” he said.

Balance your plate

Try thinking about the healthy eating plate as your guide for balanced meals. Half of your plate can be fruits and veggies, ¼ whole grains and ¼ protein. Examples of whole grains are barley, quinoa, brown rice and oats. Examples of healthy proteins are fish, poultry, beans and nuts.

Here are other high-protein foods for men.

Limit ultra-processed foods

Processed foods like microwaveable meals, chips, deli meats, and fast food contain added salt, sugar and fats that aren’t great for you. Switch them out for fresh ingredients and meals made from scratch. Eating a lot of processed foods can increase your risk of high blood pressure, as well. Here’s a list of foods to eat to keep high blood pressure at bay.

Change the way you shop for groceries by removing junk food from your cart. If you don’t have unhealthy snacks in the house, you won’t be able to eat them.

If you hit the drive-through a few times a week, start by limiting your trips or pick just one day a week to go. Try packing a lunch so you’re less likely to eat processed foods during the day. And on that note…

Meal prep to avoid fast food

Even if cooking isn’t your favourite pastime, spending time in the kitchen can be a lifesaver for your health and your wallet. Homemade meals taste better, you can make extra to have for lunch the next day, and over time, you’ll feel the difference healthy food has on your body.

While we all might crave fast food here or there, meal prepping is the way to go—you’ll know exactly what you’re eating, including the amount of salt. Not sure where to start? Try one of these three filling man salads.

Swap your snacks

Change your diet beyond mealtime. If you like to graze on snacks and tip back a drink, switch the habit to a healthier option like fruit, veggies, roasted chickpeas and sparkling water. For Drex, he swapped his go-to M&Ms for nuts.

Looking for more quick and easy ways to switch up your food choices and build a heart-healthy diet? Check out these articles: 

What are some heart-healthy food hacks you swear by? Let us know in the comments

*If you think something is wrong heart-wise, or that you may be experiencing a heart attack, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention and/or call 911.*

Men’s Health Checklist

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