What To Watch For: 8 Risk Factors For Heart Disease

Worried that heart disease could be in your future? Today we share how you can manage risk factors to keep your heart healthy.

Approximately 86 million Americans–about one in four–are living with heart disease. Other statistics are just as startling: 750,000 Americans suffer from heart attacks each year, and heart disease causes more deaths each year than any other disease.

There’s tons of good news about heart disease, though, too. For one, it’s becoming more treatable, and cardiovascular operations and treatments are on the rise–meaning more people are getting the heart care they need. For another, while you can’t entirely prevent heart disease from happening to you, there is much you can do to keep your heart strong and healthy.

Risk factors you can’t control

Like it or not, there are some factors you can’t control when it comes to heart disease. However, by managing the ones you can control, you greatly lower your risk.

  • Age
  • As much as you would like to, you can’t turn back the clock. More birthdays means your risk for a heart attack increases. That doesn’t mean all is lost, however. By choosing to live a healthy lifestyle, you can ward off other factors that increase your risk.

  • Medical and family history
  • If you have a family member with heart disease, your risk is higher. Let your doctor know your family medical history so he can help you determine how to keep your heart healthy.

    Factors in your medical history also weigh in to your risk. For women, a history of preeclampsia in pregnancy increases risk. Diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol also affect your heart health, but properly managing those health factors will improve your heart health.

  • Sex
  • Heart disease happens to both men and women, but it is more likely to happen to men especially at younger ages. After menopause, a woman’s risk also increases.

Risk factors you can control

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to keep your heart in good shape. We’re guessing that you know most of these, but it’s always nice to have a reminder.

  • Diet
  • What you eat is an overarching risk factor. If you can’t get enough of those burgers and fries but turn down the vegetables, your diet plays a role in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. American Heart Association research shows that you’re not alone: women eat 22% more calories than they did a few decades ago and men eat 10% more.

    In general, medical professionals recommend eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, monitoring portion sizes, and staying away from processed foods. For further information on a healthy diet, read more here.

  • Smoking
  • As much as you don’t want to hear it, if you’re a smoker, you’re increasing your heart disease risk. In fact, a smoker’s risk for a heart attack is twice as much as a non smoker’s. Another thing to consider? Even if your family members don’t smoke, their risk increases from breathing in your smoke. So if you can’t give it up for yourself, do it for the kids.

  • Physical Inactivity
  • You’ve probably made resolutions every New Year’s to exercise. Here’s why you’re going to want to start keeping that resolution: you’re more likely to live longer. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for all sorts things, heart disease included. The American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, that’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

  • Obesity
  • Over two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. Extra body weight makes your heart work harder to pump enough blood. Overtime, this added strain wears the heart down and can weaken your heart muscle. If obesity itself doesn’t lead to heart disease, it causes other conditions that can, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Talk with your doctor to find out about effective ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Stress
  • Stress is linked to other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. Constant stress joined with poor stress management can put you at greater risk for a heart attack. If you handle stress by smoking, eating comfort foods, or vegging in front of the TV when you could be exercising, that only exacerbates the problem.

    If you’re finding yourself constantly stressed, try to do something you enjoy everyday. It could be reading a book, practicing yoga, or playing a game with your family. If you’re under extreme stress, it’s time to work with a professional. Try taking a stress management class or talk with you doctor about ways to relieve pressure in your life.

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