The concept of risk factors related to disease is relatively new in medicine. We didn’t even consider lifestyle as part of your risk for heart disease until the 1960s. But now we know that many things you do can increase your risks, which tend to cluster and build on each other creating an even more powerful negative effect.
If you have 2 or more of the following risk factors, your risk for heart disease is quadrupled. Three or more and your risk of heart disease is 8 to 20 times higher than if you had no risk factors at all.
Smoking — This is a risk factor you can reduce to zero. If you smoke, try to quit. If you don’t, don’t start. Heart disease is the cause of 35% to 40% of all smoking-related deaths. And, heart disease causes 8% of all deaths caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Dyslipidemias (problematic blood fats) — High total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides all increase risk for heart disease. Exercising, losing weight, eating well, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, and not smoking all help to bring blood fats into the normal range.
High Blood Pressure — One out of 3 adults in the US has high blood pressure and the higher your blood pressure the more prone you are to heart disease. Blood pressure is measured by systolic (top) number over diastolic (bottom) number. For every 20 point rise in the top number or for every 10 point rise in the bottom number over 115/75 your risk for heart disease doubles. People with high blood pressure also frequently have high cholesterol. Lifestyle changes that lower blood fats will also lower high blood pressure.
Diabetes — Over 24 million American have diabetes and 75% of all deaths related to diabetes are caused by heart disease. Of course, the best way to lower this risk is to avoid getting diabetes. Second best is to keep the condition under control by managing blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats. This can be done using lifestyle changes and medication.
Exercise — Few Americans are as active as they should be — only 22% of adults do light exercise daily. Not exercising increases your risk of heart disease substantially, as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. Exercising makes you feel good, helps you lose weight, and lowers blood pressure. Best advice, start moving.
Weight Loss — This one is the biggie – no pun intended. Over 70% of adults weigh too much, and being overweight increases your chances of having high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. An overweight 45-year-old man will, on average, die 6 years before his lean counterpart. An overweight 45-year-old woman will die almost 8.5 years before her lean counterpart. Losing as little as 5% to10% of your current weight reduces your risk for heart disease. Lose more and your risk profile gets even better.
Your Age and Your Relatives — You can’t become younger or disown Uncle Sol or Aunt Bessie, no matter how hard you try. But it is important to know what diseases your close relatives currently have or what they died from: the information can help your doctor make judgments about your care. Brothers, sisters and parents count more heavily than second-generation relatives like aunts and cousins.
Alcohol — The question isn’t — Do you drink? It’s — How much? Studies have shown that 1 to 2 drinks a day can reduce the risk for heart disease by raising HDLs. But more than that — 3 or more drinks a day — increases the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Moderation is the key.
Stress — We once thought that driven people, type A personalities, were more prone to heart disease. But the evidence is inconclusive. Many ambitious, hard working, busy people are perfectly healthy. Still, it does appear that people who experience a good deal of anger may be at higher risk of developing heart disease.