The majority of risk factors that lead to a heart attack are those under your control and not secondary to inherited conditions. Minor changes in lifestyle make for large impacts in your health.
What You Can’t Control – The 10%
-Age (over 45 for men, over 55 for women)
-Gender (men are at higher risk than women until women reach menopause)
-Genetics (family history of a parent or sibling with premature heart disease; men < 55 years, women < 65 years)
What You Can Control- The 90%
Cholesterol levels: Get yours under control with diet, exercise and medication, if needed. Every 1% reduction in LDL (“bad” cholesterol) reduces your risk by 1%. Every 1% increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol) reduces risk 2-4%.
Smoking: Quit! Smoking one to five cigarettes a day increases the risk of heart attack by 38 percent, and 40 cigarettes a day by a whopping 900%! If you stop smoking, the risk decreases over time, and after three to five years, your risk is the same as a nonsmoker’s.
Stress: Identify and reduce sources of stress in your life, including depression, anger and anxiety.
Diabetes: Be screened! Twenty-nine million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and many don’t even know it. Risk of heart disease increases two to fourfold as a diabetic.
High blood pressure: Treat it! One in three adults in the U.S. has hypertension, and only one-third adequately control it. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, everyone over the age of 18 should be screened.
Obesity: Check your waist measurement, and get your weight under control with diet and exercise. In particular, abdominal obesity is a risk factor for heart attack- think Apple shape vs. pear-shape. Waist measurement is a better predictor of risk than overall weight. Fat around the belly can also lead to Metabolic Syndrome – a combination of hypertension, high blood sugar and cholesterol problems that can double your risk of heart disease. As a woman, a waist circumference of > 35 inches equates to a high risk of heart disease.
Diet: Emphasize more fruits and vegetables and less meat in your diet. A plant-based diet lowers your risk.
Exercise: Anything counts! Take a walk over your lunch break or go for a run. Take your dog for a stroll. Bottom line: Activity matters and a sedentary life is a killer.
Alcohol intake: Drinking three drinks a week is better than not drinking anything at all, but drinking too much increases your risk of both heart disease and cancer.