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Heart Disease Risk Factors & Prevention

While some risk factors for heart disease are outside of your control—including age and family history—others can be reduced with lifestyle changes.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

  • Being over age 50 or post-menopausal
  • Having an African-American or Hispanic-American ethnic background
  • Having a parent or sibling who had a heart attack or stroke
  • A personal medical history of diabetes, heart disease or stroke
  • Blood pressure 140/90 mmHg or higher—or not knowing your blood pressure
  • Smoking, or living or working with someone who smokes
  • Being 20 pounds or more overweight
  • Getting less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day
  • Total cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or higher—or not knowing your cholesterol levels
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL—or not knowing your HDL level

Change Your Lifestyle, Reduce Your Risk

Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and lack of physical activity can all affect your heart health.

  • If you smoke, quit now.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, as well as the use of illicit drugs like methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana. These substances increase blood pressure and heart rate, increasing the risk of heart failure or heart attack.
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fatty acids. Stay away from high-calorie foods with low nutritional value – especially those with lots of sugar, additives and preservatives.
  • Active people are much less likely to suffer heart disease. Commit to 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Take up a sport or fun exercise to lose weight or stay in shape.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. Watching your salt intake and exercising can help lower high blood pressure.
  • If you have diabetes, talk with your health care provider and check your blood sugar level frequently. Eat a healthy diet and exercise. Losing just 10 to 15 percent of excess weight will lessen your chances for diabetes or help keep it under control.

Understand the Numbers

Knowledge is your best defense. Ask your doctor to assess your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglyceride and glucose levels. With just a few simple tests as a regular part of your heart maintenance program, you can address minor problems before they become major health issues.

You should have the following targets in mind for these crucial numbers:

  • Overall cholesterol: <200mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: <100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: >50 mg/dL
  • Blood glucose: <100mg/dL
  • Blood pressure: 120/80 mm/Hg
  • Body mass index: 18.5 to 25
  • For women, a waistline measuring 35 inches or less
  • For men, a waistline measuring 40 inches or less