Heart Disease is an Officer’s Biggest Threat—Here’s How to Prevent It 

Heart disease is not only the number one killer of Americans, but of law enforcement officers, too. In fact, it not only strikes officers more frequently, but at an earlier age. Heart Disease PoliceThe statistics are sobering, with the average age of a first heart attack at 46 and the risk of sudden death from a cardiac event 18 times more likely after the age of 45—with an even greater risk for those with high blood pressure or who smoke.

There is good news however; cardiac health issues and premature death are largely preventable if officers are proactive about their health and take the right steps. 

  1. Get Screened Early and Often. Screening for cardiac disease is more than just getting your annual physical. Some tests that can detect issues before they’re symptomatic include a carotid ultrasound, which allows doctors to see plaque build-up or inflammation in the neck arteries; coronary artery calcium scoring, a CT scan that identifies plaque build-up by measuring calcium levels in the heart; blood testing for coronary inflammation such as Lp-Pla2 markers and oxidized LDL; and a standard or advanced lipid panel to check cholesterol levels, though a lipid panel is not always enough to catch issues, and should be done in conjunction with another screening method mentioned above.
     
  2. Eat Right. Easy to say, but not always easy to do, especially for those working long hours in high-stress situations. Start by focusing on what you can add to your plate, such as more veggies and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats (like avocado, nuts, and olive oil), fish and seafood, plant-based proteins, and lean cuts of meat or poultry. Prepared meal delivery services, such as Home Chef or Factor, can make eating better easier because they simply need to be heated up in the oven or microwave. Bring low sodium snacks, like roasted unsalted nuts, low-sodium jerky, or fruit, to work with you to help keep you out of the drive-thru.

  3. Get Moving. It’s hard enough for the average person to make time for workouts, so for officers with long or unpredictable work days and copious amounts of stress, it can be that much harder. Any movement is better than no movement, so try starting with a 15 or 20 minute walk a day and work your way up to 30 minutes of exercise daily. In addition to walking, swimming, hiking, biking, strength training, yoga, and HIIT workouts are all great ways to strengthen your heart, boost your metabolism, help you sleep better, and support weight loss. Consider working out at the end of your shift for an extra stress-busting boost.

  4. Prioritize Sleep Health. A good night’s sleep is critical to overall health—including your heart health. Without quality sleep—and enough of it—you not only increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, and disease-causing chronic inflammation, but high blood pressure and heart attack as well. Practice good “sleep hygiene” with an electronics curfew, sleeping in a dark, cool room, and avoiding alcohol and heavy meals before bed. Also consider getting screened for sleep apnea if you are sleeping long enough but not waking up feeling rested, or find yourself gasping for air throughout the night.

  5. Consider Supplements. While there (unfortunately) isn’t a magic pill to prevent heart disease, some supplements may be worth talking to your doctor about adding to your regimen. These include:
    • Magnesium, which is responsible for maintaining a healthy electrical system in the heart. It’s also been shown to regulate blood pressure, reduce atherosclerosis risk, and improve lipid profiles by boosting “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol. Most people don’t get enough through diet alone.
    • Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which support a healthy heart. Research shows that they can help lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and high blood pressure, as well as prevent artery-hardening plaque build-up. There is also some evidence that they can reduce the severity and mortality of heart disease. While getting them straight from fish is best, high-quality supplements using wild-caught fish can be a good substitute.
    • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful supporter of heart health as research shows a correlation between higher levels and healthy hearts. CoQ10 has also been shown to improve the symptoms of congestive heart failure and may even aid in recovery following bypass or heart valve surgery. It’s an especially important supplements for those taking statins, as those drugs cause a decrease in CoQ10 levels. 
    • Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, though most of us don’t get enough. Not only does a high-fiber diet lower cholesterol levels, but it’s also associated with a lesser risk of death from cardiovascular disease. If you aren’t eating enough fiber, a supplement can help boost your intake. 

 

  1. Reduce Caffeine, Alcohol, Sugar, and Sodium. Cutting back can be hard, so it may be helpful to work on reducing your intake of thing at a time. If you’re guzzling energy drinks all day long (which are linked to heart problems), switch to coffee or tea which offer a caffeine boost along with antioxidants. Try an app like Sunnyside to help cut back on your drinking. Become mindful about sugar and sodium content in the foods you eat by reading labels and by limiting the amount of salt or sugar you add to food or consume in beverages.

Stop Smoking. Here in 2024, there’s plenty of evidence that smoking is bad for your heart and your overall health. Decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and COPD by quitting—or not starting at all. Smokers are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than nonsmokers, and have a doubled risk of stroke. If you’re a long-time smoker, don’t despair—health benefits begin immediately, and after three years of not smoking, you’ll have cut your risk for heart disease in half.