Sometimes, taking risks can help you grow, like when you face your fear of flying or introduce yourself to someone new.
Other times, risks can be harmful - especially when it comes to your heart health.
This February is American Heart Month, a month to focus on caring for your heart. There are several factors that can put you at risk for heart disease - some that are not in your control, some that are. In order to improve your heart health and prevent heart disease, it's critical you take steps to care for this essential organ.
This month - and every month - take the time to understand the risks you face for heart disease. With this knowledge, you can make impactful decisions to reduce your chances of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
What Heart Disease Risk Factors Can't Be Changed?
From the weather to traffic to winning the lottery, there's a lot in this world that's not in your control. Unfortunately, this includes some aspects of your heart health.
Heart disease risk factors that can't be changed include:
- Your age: Men over 45 years old and women over 55 years old have a greater chance of developing heart disease.
- Your gender: Usually, men have more of a chance of having a heart attack, especially earlier in life. Heart disease risks are also different in men and women. For instance, estrogen can protect women from heart disease - but women also have a higher chance of dying within a week of having a heart attack.
- Your race: Heart disease risk is higher in Black Americans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, and some Asian-Americans compared to white Americans. This may be due to higher rates of other risk factors, like obesity and diabetes.
- Your genetics: People who have close relatives with heart disease have a higher chance of developing heart disease themselves. Likely due to lifestyle choices, those with family history of heart disease also tend to have other risk factors.
Heart Disease Risk Factors in Your Control
For your heart health, control the risk factors that you can. Making lifestyle changes that limit or completely eliminate these risks will go a long way toward preventing heart disease.
Cigarette smoking puts you at a much higher risk of developing heart disease — plain and simple. Every time you take a puff, you damage your heart and blood vessels, as well as raise your blood pressure.
If you are a smoker, work with your healthcare provider to quit. Within just one year of not smoking, your risk of heart disease becomes roughly half that of a smoker's.
An Unhealthy Diet
One of the strongest defenses against heart disease is eating a heart-healthy diet. What you eat impacts other major risk factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight.
A heart healthy diet focuses on nutrient-rich foods full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients - all of which support your heart. Choose a diet that includes:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains, like whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice
- Low-fat dairy products
- Non-tropical vegetable oils, like canola, olive, and sunflower oil
Additionally, limit unhealthy foods, including sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats.
Staying active is essential to your heart health. On the other hand, physical inactivity is damaging.
Regular exercise lowers your risk of heart disease by strengthening your heart and improving your blood circulation. It also reduces other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Each week, you should aim to get:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, biking, or swimming
- At least 2 muscle-strengthening activities, like bodyweight exercises or lifting weights
Remember -; doing something is better than doing nothing. Spread out your 150 minutes of physical activity into 30 minutes a day 5 times a week. If 30 minutes sounds like too much, start with 20 minutes or 15 minutes each day. Find a system that works for you - and get your body and heart moving.
Diabetes significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease. In fact, at least 68% of people with diabetes over 65 years old die of some form of heart disease.
If you have diabetes, it's critical you work with your healthcare provider to manage your blood sugar and lower your chances of heart disease. It's also even more crucial to do everything in your power to limit other risk factors by eating healthy and staying active.
Other Factors That Contribute to Your Risk of Heart Disease
Beyond the primary risk factors, there are other factors that can make you more prone to heart disease, including stress and alcohol.
Stress is connected with heart disease risk, which may be due to how you react to stress. For instance, you might overeat or begin smoking when experiencing too much stress.
Do your best to limit stress. When it does occur, deal with it in healthy ways, such as exercise or talking with a trusted loved one. Reducing stress will go a long way for your heart health.
Additionally, alcohol has been known to raise blood pressure, cause high triglycerides (the most common type of fat in your body), and irregular heartbeats - all of which can be damaging for your heart. To keep your heart healthy, limit how much you drink to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Keep in mind -; not all drinks are created equal. One drink is defined as:
- 1.5 ounces of spirits, like bourbon, scotch, or vodka
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of regular beer
It's Never Too Early to Start a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
There's a common misconception that you can only develop heart disease if you're much older. While it's true that your risk increases over time, a heart attack can occur at any time. Now is the time to start living a heart-healthy life to prevent problems down the road.
Understanding your personal risk is a critical first step. Then, you can work alongside your healthcare provider to ensure you are doing everything you can to care for your heart. Knowledge is power, and with your heart, knowledge keeps you healthy.
Do you want to know more about living a heart-healthy lifestyle? Call 610-431-5000 or request a callback to speak to a healthcare provider at Penn Heart and Vascular at Chester County Hospital.
You can also take our free Online Heart Risk Assessment.
Related Information from Chester County Hospital: