Hi, my name is Amy Levine and I have worked in the health and fitness industry for 14 years. I am currently an exercise specialist in a cardiac rehab department. February is heart health month, so it is important to know the risk factors for heart disease and what you can do to implement a heart-healthy lifestyle. Although there are some risk factors that can’t be changed, such as family history, age, and gender; the others (smoking, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes) can be managed by lifestyle change or taking medications.
- Smoking- also a risk factor for a stroke and various cancers. Smoking damages the blood vessels making it easier for plaque to build up. Even second-hand smoke can increase the chance of heart disease. When a person stops smoking, within 1-2 years, the risk of heart disease drops by almost 50% compared to continued smokers.
- Lack of Physical Activity- If you are not active; you are more likely to have problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and diabetes. Strive for 30-60 minutes of exercise on most days of the week or at least 150 minutes of exercise per week
- Hypertension- High blood pressure increases the workload on the heart by increasing the force it takes to pump the blood through the arteries. Over time, this can weaken the heart and damage blood vessels. An optimal blood pressure is 120/80 at rest and a reading above 140/90 is considered high.
- High Cholesterol- Cholesterol is a type of fat (or lipid) that is carried in the blood, but too much can cause plaque to build up in the arteries. When you have your cholesterol tested, other lipids will also be measured. The recommended levels are: cholesterol: less than 200, triglycerides: less than 150, LDL “bad” cholesterol: less than 100 and HDL “good” cholesterol: higher than 40 for men and higher than 50 for women.
- Obesity- Being overweight increases the likelihood of other risk factors, as well. Excess weight around the stomach or waist increases the risk of heart disease because it increases the heart’s workload. Strive for a BMI (body mass index-determined by weight and height) of less than 25 and a waist circumference of less than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
- Diabetes- this leads to high levels of sugar in the blood and if left untreated, can damage arteries, increasing risk for heart disease. Optimal fasting blood glucose should be between 80-110 or A1C of less than 7.
The best way to control these risk factors is through regular exercise, a healthy balanced diet, and taking medications if prescribed by you doctor. For more information, you can visit The Mayo Clinic or American Heart Association websites.