Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country for both men and women. Although it's usually considered a disease of old age, heart disease can strike at any age.
Some of the risk factors associated with heart disease--family history, gender and age--cannot be controlled. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and they have heart attacks earlier in life. Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans also have a higher risk.
The good news is that there are factors that contribute to heart disease that you can control.
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Here are some conditions that lead to heart disease, and the healthy lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce your risk of getting it:
- Diabetes: High blood sugar damages blood vessels. People with diabetes have to be extra careful to reduce their risk by controlling as many of the other risk factors as possible. Learn more about a diet for diabetes.
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure makes the heart work harder and increases the risk for stroke, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. High blood pressure can be controlled with diet, exercise, weight loss and/or medication.
- High Blood Cholesterol: People with high blood cholesterol are at higher risk for developing heart disease. Blood cholesterol can be controlled with diet, exercise, weight loss and/or medication. Get more information about cholesterol.
- Obesity: Obesity is considered a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. Obesity is also an independent risk factor for heart disease. People with excess body fat, especially around the abdominal area, are at higher risk for heart disease. Find weight loss help and support from other members on the My Community Weight Loss message boards.
- Physical inactivity: Engaging in regular physical activity can help control the other risk factors and also help to strengthen the heart muscle. Discover some new ways to get more exercise.
- Tobacco smoke: Smokers have a 2-4 times higher risk than nonsmokers. If you need help quitting, try the Smoke-Free Healthy Living Program.
- Stress: The way a person responds to stressful factors may be a contributing risk factor. Some people turn to food, drugs, alcohol and/or tobacco when life is stressful. All are established risk factors. Learn more about the causes of stress and what to do about them.
- Alcohol: Although research shows that moderate alcohol intake may lower the risk for heart disease, too much alcohol can raise blood pressure as well as contribute to some kinds of cancer and stroke. Get more information about the effects of alcohol on your health.
A condition known as Metabolic Syndrome increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. If you have three or more of the following conditions, you should discuss your risk with your doctor:
- Waist measurement in excess of 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men
- Triglycerides higher than 150 mg/dL
- HDL levels of less than 50 mg/dL for women; less than 40 mg/dL for men
- Blood pressure in excess of 130/85 mmHg
- Fasting blood sugars of 100 mg/dL or more
Small changes can make a big difference to decrease risk. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of body weight can help to reduce the risk for heart disease. That means that a woman who weighs 200 pounds who loses between 10 and 20 pounds can make a positive impact on her risk.
Eating a diet high in vegetables, whole grains with adequate lean protein, low-fat dairy and fruits as well as adding regular physical activity can go a long way to reducing risk for heart disease. Learn more about creating your own heart-healthy diet.
About the Author
Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, freelance writer and dedicated eater with professional culinary training. Her articles have appeared in Today's Dietitian, Edible Phoenix, Sweat Magazine as well as many other food and nutrition publications and websites. Sharon works diligently to meet the challenge of balancing the calories she consumes in the interest of pleasure and research with sufficient exercise to keep her weight stable.