Heart disease is not inevitable, even if it runs in your family. There are five important heart disease risk factors that you can control. A poor diet, high blood pressure and cholesterol, stress, smoking and obesity are factors shaped by your lifestyle and can be improved through behavior modifications.
Risk factors that cannot be controlled include family history, age and gender. Talk with your doctor about all of your risk factors so he or she can help you assess the best ways to protect yourself from heart disease in the future.
Excessive fat and cholesterol from your diet leads to fatty deposits in your arteries. As these deposits build up, they harden and lead to blockages, depriving your heart of much-needed oxygen. Countless studies have found a plant-based, low-fat diet can reduce the risk of numerous chronic conditions, heart disease included.
High blood pressure and cholesterol levels
High blood pressure can damage your heart and arteries, leaving you more prone to heart disease. Make sure your doctor checks for your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you are diagnosed with hypertension or high cholesterol, follow your physician’s recommendations for lifestyle modifications and prescribed medications.
Stress is harmful to your health in multiple ways. First, extended periods of stress cause your body to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Studies have shown that elevated levels of these hormones are a good predictor of heart disease-related death. During stressful times, you may also exercise less and succumb to junk food as a coping mechanism. The bottom line? Managing stress is a critical part of heart health.
“Psychosocial stressors are really impactful when it comes to coronary disease,” says David Montgomery, M.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute. “Work, relationship stress, anxiety – these things can play a role [in the development of heart disease]. Stress can wear down your blood vessels and predispose them to plaque [buildup].”
You are probably well-aware that smoking leads to asthma, emphysema and lung cancer, but did you know it is also a contributing factor to heart disease? When you light up a cigarette or cigar, you are potentially causing a buildup of fatty substances in your arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Yet another reason to kick your smoking habit for good.
Obesity elevates blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which lead to cardiovascular disease. Extra pounds are also linked to hypertension and diabetes (another contributing factor to heart disease).
“Cardiovascular disease is preventable,” says Dr. Montgomery. By focusing on these five areas for improvement, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing a serious heart condition.
For more information on heart disease prevention, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.