Controlling Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease

The American Heart Association estimates that over 80 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, which refers to any disease process of the heart and/or blood vessels throughout the body. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans and stroke follows at No. 3. Cardiovascular disease refers to any disease process of the heart and/or blood vessels throughout the body. In 2004, cardiovascular disease accounted for 36% of all American deaths – or 1 in every 2.8 deaths. Some of the many forms of cardiovascular disease include:
  • Coronary heart disease (includes heart attacks and angina or chest pain)
  • Stroke (too much or too little blood to the brain)
  • Heart failure (the heart doesn’t pump well)
  • Peripheral arterial disease (blockage to blood flow outside the heart)
  • Problems with the heart’s electrical system

Risk factors you cannot control

There are three risk factors for cardiovascular disease you cannot control:
  • Family history and what you inherit in your genes
  • Age (Risk increases with age for men and women)
  • Gender (At earlier ages, men are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Once women pass menopause, their risk catches up to that of men)

Risk Factors You Can Control

The good news is that cardiovascular disease can be prevented in most cases. We have the ability to manage or control all of the following risk factors:
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Diet/Nutrition
  • Weight
  • Stress
  • Diabetes

How high blood pressure affects your heart

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, or mm/Hg. Normal blood pressure for an adult is about 120 over 80 mm/Hg. Your blood pressure reading tells your provider how hard your heart is working. High blood pressure indicates that your heart is working extra hard to move blood through your arteries. This can create a higher risk of developing heart problems, stroke, and kidney problems.

How smoking affects your heart

Many of us link smoking to cancer. But in fact, it is heart and blood vessel disease - not cancer - that is the number 1 cause of death of smokers. That's because smoking damages the lining of your arteries and promotes plaque buildup. Over time, these deposits can block the arteries and cut off the blood and oxygen supply. This buildup can cause a heart attack and stroke. Smoking is also linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, irregular heartbeats, sudden cardiac death and heart failure.

How exercise affects your heart

Only 44% of American adults get some exercise. But it is not regular or intense enough to help their hearts and improve their health. Another 28% of Americans aren't active at all.

Exercise can help decrease:

  • The risk of heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure

Exercise can help improve:

  • Blood flow through your body
  • Muscle strength, which increases your ability to do other physical activities
  • Lung function

How diet affects your heart

The foods you eat have a huge impact on your heart health. When you improve your eating habits, you improve your overall health.
  • Eat more fiber
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Limit the amount of fat in your diet
  • Limit your salt

How weight affects your heart

People who maintain a normal body weight are helping their own health. 35% of US adults are overweight and 30% are obese. 16% of US children and teens are also overweight. Excess weight can affect your heart health by:
  • Raising LDL or low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol)
  • Lowering HDL or high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol)
  • Raising blood pressure
  • Making you more likely to get diabetes

How stress affects your heart

Stress is a part of modern life. If left unchecked, stress can take a toll on your health. Stress or anxiety has a biological impact on your body and mind that can affect Your heart and blood vessels, causing an increased heart rate. This can raise blood pressure, and cause cholesterol levels to increase.

How diabetes can affect your heart

20.6 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes. Another 6 million have diabetes and don’t know it. People with diabetes are much more likely to develop heart and vascular problems than those who don’t have diabetes. These complications include: