10 Heart Health Risk Factors
Learn about 10 heart health risk factors. Heart disease is responsible for the most deaths each year in the United States, but most risk factors for heart disease can be prevented. The following heart health risk factors are from the Framingham Heart Study, which predicts the likelihood of heart disease for individuals in the next ten years based on lifestyle and genetics. You should always consult with your doctor before making any lifestyle changes; only she will be able to assess your heart health risk factors with certainty.
- Smoking. Smoking is a huge heart health risk factor. Fortunately it is something that you can control. Smoking can also increase your blood pressure and your level of triglycerides.
- Weight. Being overweight can put you at risk for heart disease and other heart-related conditions, like diabetes. When you are overweight, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. Additionally, being overweight increases your triglyeride levels and lowers your "good cholesterol." The American Heart Association recommends a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18-25. If you don't know if you are overweight, consult your doctor.
- Blood Pressure. Your blood pressure is the amount of force your heart has to use to pump blood throughout your body. The pressure refers to how much pressure is being placed on your arterial walls. The more pressure, the bigger the heart health risk factor. If your blood pressure is 140/90, you are at a greater risk for developing heart disease. Ideally, your systolic (the top number) should be below 120.
- Cholesterol. Cholesterol is another important heart health risk factor. Too much of the "bad kind" (i.e. LDL) and you could have too much plaque build up on your arteries and blockage could occur. Too little of the good kind (i.e. HDL) and you might not have enough protection for your heart.
- Gender. Men are more likely to suffer heart attacks than women. Men also tend to have heart attacks earlier in life.
- Family history. Some heart conditions are genetic, like different valve disorders and heart murmurs. Heart disease also occurs more in people who are Hispanic, Caucasian or African-American. Heart disease is much less common in Asians.
- Stress. A moderate amount of stress can be motivating and beneficial for heart health. Too much stress can increase risk for heart disease. When you become stressed, your brain releases a hormone, cortisol, which stimulates the nervous system. Too much stress causes the nervous system to become overstimulated and can lead to high blood pressure and lower immune system function.
- Recreational drug/alcohol use. The American Heart Association says that people who drink too much have increased blood pressure and increased risk for coronary artery disease. Though people who drink moderately, one to two drinks a day, are in the normal range, if you're nondrinker, even better. Recreational drugs like cocaine can increase your risk of heart attack and sudden death.
- Diet. Diet is a major factor in preventing heart disease. Eating a healthy diet of whole grains and vegetables plays a big part in your overall heart health. Eating lots of fried, greasy foods increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
- Age. One of the naturally occurring heart health risk factors is age. As your body ages, the organs stop functioning at the same level of efficiency. Your risk for heart disease increases after the age of 45. Your risk increases again when you turn 65. The American Heart Association notes that 83 percent of people who die from coronary artery disease are over the age of 65.