Non-modifiable risk factors include: age, gender, family history and diabetes. Women over the age of 55 and men over the age of 45 are at an increased risk for heart disease. In general men are at an increased risk; however, post-menopause women pose a greater risk due to absence of hormones which protect against heart disease. Family history of heart disease is genetic, increasing the risk for heart disease. Although diabetes has a non-modifiable genetic component, you should manage blood sugar levels. Pre-diabetes and diabetes place greater stress on arterial walls, also increasing the risk for heart disease.
A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of developing heart disease by lessening the effect of various modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors include: smoking, blood pressure, blood lipid content, weight, stress, and level of daily physical activity.
Smoking places more stress on the heart by increasing heart rate and blood pressure as well as increasing the risk of blood clotting. Cessation of smoking prompts positive health benefits that take affect within the first few hours after quitting. Quitting cold turkey works for some however can be very difficult for others. Numerous toll free
hotlines and support groups are available to help become smoke-free.
A blood pressure measurement greater than or equal to 140/90 mmHg is classified as high blood pressure and puts additional stress on the heart and lining of arteries. A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is ideal. Participating in regular exercise and a low sodium diet will help reduce blood pressure. In addition, prescribed medications can also help reduce blood pressure; however this should only be used when lifestyle changes do not decrease blood pressure enough.
Cholesterol, naturally produced by the liver and found in foods containing saturated fat or cholesterol, is essential for body function. Cholesterol is composed of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), triglycerides and other lipid components. LDL cholesterol is considered bad cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup on atrial walls. HDL’s, good cholesterol, is protective to the body. Food not utilized by the body is converted to triglycerides for later use and high levels of triglycerides in the blood can also lead to plaque buildup. Partaking in a low saturated fat diet, avoiding hydrogenated oils/fat and regular exercise can help lower cholesterol levels. Prescribed medications can also help reduce cholesterol levels, if necessary.
Being overweight (body mass index > 25) or obese (BMI > 30) increases the risk for heart disease, elevated blood pressure and blood lipid content, as well as increasing the risk of developing type II diabetes. By eating a well-balanced meal, using portion sizes and expending more calories than consumed, one can achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Stress places additional work on the heart and in some rare instances actually triggers a heart attack. Various techniques can be utilized to reduce stress, such as exercise, yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc. Managing stress can be as simple as setting aside five minutes a day to relax and meditate or use breathing techniques.
As previous noted exercise is extremely important in the fight against heart disease. Participating in 30 minutes of regular exercise at least five times per week will help lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol, lose weight, reduce stress and ultimately lower the risk of developing heart disease. Numerous exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming can either be performed continuous or intermittent throughout the day to achieve benefits of aerobic exercise.
By taking the right steps to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle the risk of developing heart disease can be greatly reduce.
Contributed by: Michael Schumacher, Exercise Science student from UW-Oshkosh who is currently completing his internship in the Cardiac Services Dept at Ripon Medical Center