When it comes to a condition as common as heart disease – the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. – it may feel impossible to stop or prevent. But that isn’t at all the case. In fact, everyday, simple steps can go a long way in supporting your heart health and preventing disease.
And chances are, you already know several of main ways to boost heart health, like eating a healthy diet and getting routine exercise. But there are a few others that are important to keep in mind, like stress management, staying up to date with your healthcare needs and most importantly, knowing your risk factors for heart disease. Interestingly enough, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly half of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease – if not more.
While they vary from person to person, there are several important risk factors everyone should know. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that some risk factors, like age and family history, can’t be changed. However, by understanding your unique risk for heart disease, you can effectively minimize or manage all of them.
What are the key risk factors for heart disease?
1. High Blood Pressure:
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is when the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels is higher than it should be (normal blood pressure is 120/80). While high blood pressure doesn’t typically cause symptoms, over time it can damage the arteries, heart and more.
2. High Cholesterol:
As an essential waxy substance, cholesterol is used by the body to build new cells and make hormones. However, when there is a higher than normal amount of cholesterol in the blood, it can cause fatty deposits to build-up in the arteries, making them narrower and tougher for blood to flow.
There is often a misconception that the risk for heart disease is higher for men than women, but this isn’t true. While a man is more likely to develop heart disease and/or have a heart attack at a younger age, approximately 65, the average age for a woman to develop heart disease and/or have a heart attack is approximately 72.
4. Being Overweight:
On its own, having excess weight doesn’t directly cause heart disease. However, many of the factors that lead to being overweight, like eating foods high in fat and sodium, as well as a lack of exercise, increase the likelihood of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes, all of which are heart disease risk factors.
As a part of the natural aging process, blood vessels typically become less flexible, which makes it tougher for blood to easily flow. Additionally, having fatty deposits or plaque in the arteries also becomes more common with age, which can further impact blood flow.
While the effects of smoking are also centered on the lungs, it can have a far-reaching impact on the body, including the heart and vascular system. The chemicals found in cigarettes can increase plaque build-up in arteries, thicken blood and make clots more likely, as well as reducing blood flow to arms, legs, hands and feet. It can also increase the likelihood of stroke.
7. Having Diabetes:
As a condition that causes your blood glucose or sugar to be too high, diabetes can lead to damage of the blood vessels and nerves that are vital for the heart to function. Diabetes also increases the likelihood of other heart disease risk factors to develop, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides.
8. Sedentary Lifestyle:
For many individuals, sitting for a bulk of the day, whether that’s in an office chair, on the couch or in a car seat is downright bad for your heart health. Several recent studies have shown that the more you sit, the higher your risk for heart disease becomes. Additionally, being physically inactive can also increase the likelihood of developing blood clots, high blood pressure or having a heart attack.
9. Family History:
If your close or immediate family members, like your mother, father, grandparents or siblings, have been diagnosed with heart disease or they have any of the risk factors listed above, this increases your overall risk of developing heart disease. Keep in mind, though, that even if your family member does have heart disease or any of these risk factors, that does not automatically mean you will have it, too.
Minimizing Your Risk For Heart Disease
If you feel like you may have one or more of these risk factors, you are by no means alone. While it may feel overwhelming to manage and track all of these, finding a partner in lasting heart health can help you. At Georgia Heart Institute, we have more than 20 non-invasive heart experts that will help you better understand your heart health and key ways to support it long-term. The first step is to request an appointment today at heartngmc.org/appointment or simply call 770-534-2020. Start your journey to lasting heart health today.