The three key risk factors mentioned above are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking, so let’s get more specific about those three:
- High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It’s a medical condition that occurs when the pressure within the blood through your arteries and other blood vessels is too elevated. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs inside your body, including your kidneys and brain.
- High cholesterol occurs when you take in more cholesterol than your body can use. Cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, including those of the heart. Leading to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
- Smoking is dangerous for many reasons, but as it relates to heart disease, smoking increases’ blood pressure, reduces the amount of oxygen to your heart, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
In addition to the three key risk factors, there are other considerations you should keep in mind. Diabetes increases the risk for heart disease. It causes sugars to build up in the blood. The risk of death from cardiovascular disease for adults with diabetes is significantly higher than adults who do not have diabetes. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.
Genetic factors likely play a role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions as well. However, people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.
What You Can Do
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack. A healthy lifestyle includes the following:
- Choose a healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet is a great example as it emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains, and olive oils rich in monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, and limits eating cheese and sweets.
- Limit salt (sodium) in your diet to lower your blood pressure and limit sugar to prevent or help control diabetes.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight or obese lifestyle increases your risk for heart disease. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, ask your doctor to calculate your body mass index (BMI) on your next visit.
- Increase your physical activity to help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Start with something you enjoy that isn’t too difficult, like brisk walking.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking significantly increases your risk for heart disease. If you smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease significantly.
- Limit alcohol intake or too much consumption as this can raise your blood pressure.
Finally, here’s a fun one – laugh! Laughing relaxes and expands blood vessels, which helps protect your heart. Make sure you are doing things you enjoy and spending time with people that bring you joy and laughter. In fact, this is an excellent time to start planning something special to celebrate Valentine’s Day. That will certainly be good for your heart!