Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many factors that can increase your risk for heart disease. They are called risk factors. You can’t control some of them, but there are a lot you can control. Knowing more about them can lower your risk for heart disease.
What are the risk factors for heart disease that I cannot change?
Age. Your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. Men 45 and over and women 55 and over are at greater risk.
Sex. Certain risk factors can affect the risk of heart disease differently in women and men. For example, estrogen gives women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes increases the risk of heart disease more in women than in men.
Race or ethnicity. Some groups are at higher risk than others. African Americans are more likely than whites to have heart disease, while Hispanic Americans are less likely to have it. Some Asian groups, like East Asians, have lower rates, but South Asians have higher rates.
Family story. You are at a higher risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at a young age.
What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to lower your risk of getting heart disease:
Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly – at least once a year for most adults, and more often if you have high blood pressure. Take steps, including lifestyle changes, to prevent or control high blood pressure.
Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. High cholesterol levels can clog your arteries and increase your risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medications (if needed) can lower your cholesterol levels. Another type of fat in the blood is triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides can also increase the risk of coronary heart disease, especially in women.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. This is mainly because they are linked to other risk factors for heart disease, including high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Controlling your weight can reduce these risks.
Eat a healthy diet. Try to limit saturated fat, foods high in sodium, and added sugars. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH diet is an example of a diet that can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which can lower your risk for heart disease.
Exercise regularly. Exercise has many benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving your circulation. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. All of these can lower your risk of heart disease.
Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which can lead to weight gain. Both of these factors increase your risk for heart disease. Men should not drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women should not have more than one.
Do not smoke. Smoking increases your blood pressure and puts you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quitting smoking will lower your risk of heart disease. You can ask your health care provider to help you find the best way to quit smoking.
To manage stress. Stress is linked to heart disease in many ways. It can increase your blood pressure. Extreme stress can be a “trigger” for a heart attack. Plus, some common ways to deal with stress, like overeating, binge drinking, and smoking, are bad for your heart. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful.