What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?

Published: Monday, June 24, 2024

Are you at risk for heart disease? For most Americans, the answer is yes. New research is shining a light on the number of people in the United States who have cardiovascular-kidney-metabolic (CKM) syndrome, a newly defined condition that increases the risk of heart disease.

The syndrome, which was defined by the American Heart Association in 2023, affects major organs throughout the body, including the brain, heart, liver and kidneys. CKM is diagnosed in stages from zero, indicating someone who has no risk factors for heart disease, to 4, indicating a person who has heart disease along with other risk factors for significant health issues.

A study published in May analyzed data related to more than 10,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study found that 90 percent of participants had CKM in stage 1 or higher, with more than 50 percent in stage 2, putting them at a moderate risk of heart disease. 

NHANES is considered a representative sample of Americans, meaning a vast majority of people in the United States are at risk for developing heart disease.

What is the connection between my heart and my metabolism?

Think about metabolism’s role in your body: It is the chemical process in the body’s cells that changes food into energy. When your metabolism isn’t functioning optimally, due to a factor like having insulin resistance, you are more likely to develop heart disease, as well as a number of interconnected health issues, including obesity, diabetes and kidney disease. 

A growing understanding of how your metabolism impacts all these different parts of the body is what led the American Heart Association to define cardiovascular-kidney-metabolic syndrome. When you are at risk of one of those diseases, such as heart disease, you are often at risk of the others, too.

What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?

There are four primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and metabolic disorders: 

  • excess weight
  • high blood pressure 
  • high blood sugar 
  • high cholesterol/triglycerides. 

One in three Americans have three or more of those risk factors, while most people have at least one.

Having risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop heart disease. You can take steps to protect your heart and lower your risk. Start with these basics:

  • Eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, supplemented by lean protein (like chicken, fish, tofu or lentils), whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fat.
  • Aim to move your body more, with a goal of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. 
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
  • See your primary care provider regularly for checkups to keep a close eye on important numbers related to your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • If you’re diagnosed with any health conditions, like diabetes, work with your health care provider to manage those conditions effectively through medications and other therapies.
  • Talk with your provider about what a healthy weight looks like for you, and if needed, take steps to lose weight. 

Your primary care provider, or a specialist like a cardiologist, can advise you about other things you can do to lower your risk. If you have a family history of heart disease, that may include screenings or medications.

Next steps

The Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids at Georgia Heart Institute offers comprehensive programs to manage cardiometabolic health. Call 770-219-0960 to learn more about how we can help.

Sanjay Lall, MD, is Georgia Heart Institute’s Section Director for the Northern Market.