You can do a lot to lower your odds of getting heart disease. Taking action will improve your health — and, possibly, save your life.
The Risk Factors — and How You Can Reduce Yours
Major risk factors for cardiovascular disease include cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, diabetes mellitus, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition. Prevention and treatment centers around these risk factors — and these approaches will help you lower risk for many other types of illness, as well as helping you feel great and have more energy overall.
1. Don’t smoke.
If you smoke, you are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as nonsmokers, and you’re much more likely to die if you do have a heart attack
2. Improve cholesterol levels.
You’re more likely to get heart disease if you have:
- Total cholesterol level over 200
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol level under 40
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level over 160
- Triglycerides over 150
High blood cholesterol is a condition that greatly increases your chances of developing coronary heart disease. Extra cholesterol in the blood settles on the inner walls of the arteries, narrowing them and allowing less blood to pass through them to the heart. Aim for total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL; LDL cholesterol below 130 mg/dL and HDL above 35 mg/dL.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are epidemics in the United States that contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of obesity has increased among both men and women in the United States in the past decade; currently about one third of adult women (or 34 million) are classified as obese. Also, 60 percent of both men and women get no regular physical activity. Obesity, especially abdominal adiposity, is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease in women.
4. Exercise regularly & Get active.
Recent evidence suggests that even moderate-intensity activity, including brisk walking, is associated with substantial reduction of cardiovascular disease risk. These findings support the 1995 federal exercise guidelines endorsing 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week, a program that should be feasible and safe for most of the population. Regular exercise and maintenance of healthy weight should also help reduce insulin resistance and the risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, which appears to be an even stronger risk factor for cardiovascular disease in women than in men. Diabetes is associated with a threefold to sevenfold elevation in cardiovascular disease risk among women, compared with a twofold to threefold elevation among men. Approximately half of all deaths in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus are due to heart disease.
5. Follow a heart-healthy diet.
Eat foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Just about everyone should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and other plant-based foods. The fiber is good for your cholesterol, and you’ll get vitamins the natural way, from foods.
You can still eat fish (especially salmon or tuna, which are high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and meat, but make it lean and keep the portions modest. Also limit salt and sugar. Most people get too much of both.
6. Avoid trans fats.
Trans fatty acids have been linked to adverse lipid profiles and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This includes most margarines. The role of other fatty acids, including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and marine omega-3 fatty acids, remains controversial.
7. Consume alcohol only in moderation.
Moderate intake of alcohol is related to reduction of cardiovascular disease — but may raise blood pressure and increase risk of breast cancer. Early surgical menopause is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which appears to be negated by the use of estrogen therapy.
8. Arm yourself with risk-reducing vitamins.
Antioxidant vitamin supplements, particularly vitamin E and homocysteine-lowering agents such as folate and B6, have promising roles in prevention of cardiovascular disease, but conclusive evidence may hinge on the results of several ongoing randomized clinical trials. When it is found in unusually high levels, homocysteine brings the same degree of risk as having high cholesterol does. The B vitamins, especially folic acid and B12, will drive elevated homocysteine levels down to normal, often without the need of any prescription medication.
9. Give yourself some new stress-management tools.
Poorly controlled stress may have an adverse effect on blood lipids. An attitude of hostility has been powerfully linked with a higher incidence of cardiac events, and cynical distrust has been associated with accelerated progression of carotid artery disease. Relaxation methods (meditation, breathing exercises), yoga, and stress management techniques are essential for preventing cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease and for reducing the risk of recurrent cardiac problems. Meditation improves exercise tolerance and decreases electrical changes associated with poor circulation to the heart. Meditation has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reverse carotid artery thickening. Also consider acupuncture, which has been shown to help relax the myocardium and improve circulation.