Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? While some of the risk factors for heart disease are beyond our control, others are caused by a person’s lifestyle and habits. Since nearly half of all Americans (47 percent) have one of the three most critical risk factors – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking – it’s important for all of us to consider the steps we can take to minimize the threat of heart disease.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
- Being a Man: Men have a greater risk of heart disease than women, and they are more likely to suffer heart attacks earlier in life (source).
- Getting Older: Most people who die of coronary heart disease are over the age of 65 (source).
- Family History of Heart Disease: If your parents have/had heart disease, you’re more likely to develop it (source).
- Race: African-Americans have a higher risk of high blood pressure, and heart disease risk is higher amongst Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans (source).
Controllable Risk Factors
- Tobacco Smoke: Smokers are more likely to develop coronary heart disease. Nonsmokers’ risk of heart disease increases if they are exposed to secondhand smoke (source). Even if you’re a long-time smoker, it’s beneficial to stop smoking, so consider quitting to protect your heart.
- High Blood Cholesterol: The higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk of coronary heart disease (source). You can manage your cholesterol by eating heart-healthy foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and high in soluble fire. Avoid saturated fats and eliminate trans fats from your diet. Exercise several times each week, quit smoking, and lose weight if you’re carrying a few extra pounds. In addition, your doctor may recommend that you begin taking a medication to lower your cholesterol.
- High Blood Pressure: When your blood pressure is high, your heart must work harder, which causes the muscle to become thicker and stiffer. This can cause the heart to function abnormally, increasing your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. To lower your blood pressure, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, lose weight, limit your sodium and alcohol intake, and reduce your stress. Your doctor may also recommend that you begin taking a medication.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Physical activity helps control your cholesterol and blood pressure and reduces your risk of diabetes and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both) spread throughout each week. It also recommends that you complete strength training two days a week.
- Being Overweight or Obese: People with excess body weight, especially if the fat is located at the waist, are more likely to develop heart disease. Being overweight can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, all of which increase your risk of heart disease. Losing weight can be difficult, but even losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can be beneficial.
- Diabetes: Even if you manage your diabetes well and keep your glucose levels under control, diabetes significantly increases your risk of heart disease. Work with your doctor to manage your blood sugar levels as well as possible, and if you don’t have diabetes currently, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and lose excess weight to reduce your chance of developing diabetes.
With many of these risk factors for heart disease, if you combine several risk factors, the likelihood of contracting heart disease is even greater. For example, if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and you smoke cigarettes, your risk is higher than if you only had one of these risk factors. And as you’ve likely noticed, many of these risk factors are related. Most of the controllable risk factors are related to your diet and physical activity. So if you’re trying to reduce your risk of heart disease – a commendable goal! – there’s no better way than to start with the food you eat and how often you get your heart pumping.
To learn more about the risk factors for heart disease and how you can mitigate your risk, contact your doctor.
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