Risk factors for heart disease
National Heart Month, observed each February, was designated to raise awareness of the seriousness of heart disease and what we can do to prevent it. Heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in West Virginia and it can affect all ages, even young children.
Why is heart disease such a problem in our state?
The main reason is because many of us are overweight. Americans today are eating more and doing less, compared to statistics from as recently as the 1970s. Being overweight is usually accompanied by higher cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Both these factors raise one’s risk of developing heart disease. Simply being at a healthy weight does not mean you are safe from cardiovascular problems, however, as stress and an unhealthy diet play heavily as risk factors. And don’t forget – high cholesterol and blood pressure levels are not confined to those who are overweight. Some risk factors are beyond a person’s control, such as a family history of heart disease, being 55 or older and race. Another reason heart disease is so prevalent in West Virginia is our high rate of tobacco use. Smoking narrows and damages blood vessels, leading to blood clots. Smoking essentially deprives your heart of oxygen, making the heart work harder and faster.
There are several ways you can be proactive. First, talk to your doctor or medical provider about your personal risk factors and how you can reduce them. Second, eat a smart low-fat diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. Third, choose to control your weight. If you are overweight, losing just five or 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Fourth, get some exercise. Make time every day to do something you enjoy – whether it be walking, biking, dancing or swimming. It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Fifth, if you smoke – stop. You should also make every effort to avoid second-hand smoke. And finally, control the stress in your life. We all have stress; but identify the sources and then find ways to minimize it. Activities such as exercise, fun hobbies, journaling and socializing are all effective in lessening the effects of stress.
Heart disease has no quick fix or “cure.” But you can significantly lower your heart disease risk by leading a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that a woman can lower her risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent just by eating right, being physically active, not smoking and staying at a healthy weight.
Your risk of heart disease is serious – and it is your responsibility to know your risks, be proactive, and take care of your heart.