Get Heart Smart: Learn How to Manage Heart Disease Risk Factors

February 2019

Each year, cardiovascular disease kills 610,000 people in the U.S. It’s the leading cause of death for men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can’t control your age, gender, genetics, race or family history, but there are other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease that you can control.

First, if you have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, see your doctor to get these top risk factors under control. However, heart health is about more than just lowering those numbers. Tackling the following five health and lifestyle concerns will help you maintain optimal heart health.

Uncontrolled Diabetes. Adults with diabetes are up to four times more likely to die of heart disease than those without diabetes, according to the the Mayo Clinic.

Take action: If you’re older than 45 or have other risk factors for diabetes, get your blood glucose level tested. If you have diabetes, an A1C test, a blood test that measures your blood glucose levels over the last three months, can determine whether your blood sugar is under control. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults aim for an A1C of 7 percent or lower (6 percent or lower if you’re pregnant).

Smoking. Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Smoking damages the function and structure of your heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease, heart failure and heart attack. Within five years of quitting, former smokers reduced their risk of heart disease by 38 percent, recent research by the AHA showed.

Take action: offers resources to kick the habit, including live online chats and a phone helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Nicotine replacement products, such as gums and lozenges, have been shown to reduce the urge to smoke and help with quitting. The nicotine patch was found to be safe even for people hospitalized for heart disease, in a study reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

If those steps don’t work, your doctor might prescribe medications to help you quit.

Being Overweight or Obese. Even if you don’t have other risk factors, excess body fat increases your risk of heart disease. Having a higher than normal body mass index (BMI) — your weight relative to your height — and larger than normal waist circumference can increase your chances of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that impact heart health.

Take action: Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the NHLBI. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. Your doctor can help you explore your options.

A Sedentary Lifestyle. Physical inactivity and sedentary time can increase your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality regardless of your weight or health, according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Even among physically active people, sedentary time — prolonged sitting, reclining or lying down while awake — can negatively impact heart health, according to an AHA scientific statement.

Take action: The AHA recommends that you engage in one of the following: at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. In addition, the AHA suggests moderate- to high-intensity resistance training at least two days per week.

An Unhealthy Diet. What and how much you eat affect your heart and overall health. Foods high in saturated fats and trans fat, such as red meat, fried foods and high-fat dairy, can increase your “bad” cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

Take action: The AHA advises limiting saturated fats to 5 or 6 percent of calories daily — or 13 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet. Instead, focus on a diet rich in
vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, fruit and nuts.

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